Mickey Arthur is the latest in a long line of South Africans to have struck gold on Australia’s west coast. They came in their tens of thousands in the 1980s, escaping their homeland either for anti-apartheid principle or lifestyle-orientated expedient.
Arthur went to Perth under different circumstances in 2010, though there was an element of escape too. He had ridden the inevitable waves of political interference but felt his position becoming unstable and jumped before he was pushed.
He is a canny operator. He’s smart, personable and very media-friendly though I can imagine there’s an iron fist lurking in there somewhere. He knows that a cricket coach’s most important relationship is with his captain and his bond with Graeme Smith was the cornerstone of his five years with South Africa.
He will have to strike up the same rapport with Michael Clarke which may be easier said than done given Australia’s general suspicion of the role of the coach. But that was a distortion caused by the relentless success of the team through the 1990s and early 2000s and the power that the players had to marginalise the coach. Don’t forget what the axis of Allan Border and Bob Simpson achieved in the mid-80s.
Arthur is not a egotist but nor will he shrink into the background. It’s a good time to be taking over because the only way is up and many of the hard decisions have been taken. There are plenty left to make though with questions over the continued selection of senior players, most pertinently Ricky Ponting.
As a selector Arthur has been given the sort of power and responsibility that was not afforded to his immediate predecessors.
There are plenty of people reserving judgement on the appointment, partly because he’s Australia’s first non-Australian coach and Australian cricket has been an exporter, rather than importer, of knowledge and talent in the past. There are also questions about whether he is all he’s cracked up to be. South Africa’s win in Australia in 2008-09 was a freakish result and they appeared to have taken their eyes off the ball when they hosted Australia in the return series. But there was plenty of excellent progress and results before that: the victories over India, Pakistan and in England.
Cricket coaches cannot be judged like football managers who have a clear role, defined over time with obvious accountability. So it is easy to overplay their influence and that is why Arthur’s relationship with Clarke, and the other selectors (remember Rod Marsh fell out massively with Duncan Fletcher when the former was an England selector) is so important.
Arthur loves coming to England, follows Arsenal (aren’t they French?), but he’s also been pretty adept at getting under England’s skin on the cricket field. Now that he’s Aussie coach, that’s not likely to change.