Why England may get Mickey
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Perhaps the rumour will stay ripe for a while. Maybe it will go away very quickly as the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) simply name somebody else. “Finish and klaar,” as we say in these parts.
My own, unashamedly gut-feel forecast? Armed with no special additional intelligence than isn’t out in the open already, I fancy that Mickey Arthur will mastermind England’s assault on the Ashes in mid-year.
Everything depends, of course, on how much England, not exactly perkiest campers in the world after their embarrassing Test series defeat in the questionably resurgent West Indies, actually want the Proteas coach.
If he tops their list, as has been speculated in some circles, it’s a very good start.
They are in a position to pay him well – trebling his current R1.35m annual salary, if the UK’s Daily Mail is to be believed – and also to compensate Cricket South Africa if necessary, as he has a renewed deal with them to 2012.
Money talks louder to some people than it does to others, but it talks all the same … even if mercenary or devious bones are unlikely to be found too easily in Arthur’s body.
He will be comfortable already. A successful stint at the England helm could secure his family’s financial security for life.
Nor should Arthur, for whom integrity has been a pleasing bedfellow, be crucified in the event that he does dramatically swap green tracksuit for blue some time in the next few weeks.
He has served South Africa splendidly, gradually – and not without some educative bumps in the path, it must be said – restoring the Proteas to top of the ODI pile and within a whisker or two of seizing the Test championship mace from long-time custodians Australia after historic series wins both Down Under and in England.
Not only that, but a strong template is in place for achievement of another hitherto elusive goal: winning the World Cup in 2011.
Suddenly the South African side, with its budding battery of ballsy and thinking limited-overs spinners, looks tidily equipped for the Subcontinent’s pitches if the tournament is, indeed, able to proceed in the volatile region.
Arthur is probably not selling anybody any porkies by his “official” line at present, which is that he is contracted to South Africa for another three years and has certainly not been touting himself to England.
It may well be a case of awaiting their likely call and taking things from there.
He was also honest enough to tell BBC Radio: “I find it very hard to believe any ambitious coach would rule himself out (of the England job) completely.”
My suspicion that Arthur will find an approach hard to resist is based on several other considerations, too. In overall terms, I just think the planets are attractively aligned for the move.
For one thing, I don’t believe Gerald Majola, the Cricket South Africa CEO with whom he has had healthy and respectful relations, would put an unduly angry, intransigent foot in his way.
There would be regret, yes, and perhaps some delicate compromises to be reached, but I don’t believe naked hostility would accompany Arthur’s boss’s reaction. They have crossed too many rickety bridges – and a few golden highways -- together for that to be the case.
Then there’s also the business savviness, transcending even monetary matters: Arthur would be selling off some shares shrewdly while they’re “up” (South Africa) and very much investing in new ones while they’re “down” (England).
There is a school of thought that Arthur would be “mad” to take on England right now. My retort would be that a series reverse in the Caribbean is exactly when to take the tiller of a team that nevertheless still possesses some heavyweight individual names, in need of mended unity and new purpose.
And my feeling that Arthur might well accept an ECB-dangled carrot was only enhanced by a piece in London’s Sunday Times by John Stern, editor of The Wisden Cricketer.
Stern said a shortlist of candidates is being presently drawn up by headhunters Odgers Ray and Berndtson. (They punt themselves as “the leading UK executive recruitment business”.)
That list will probably include England’s acting coach Andy Flower, who has been earning some sympathetic media reviews despite the national team’s struggle, former India coach John Wright, the West Indies incumbent John Dyson and “strongest candidate” Arthur.
“He is known to like the UK, and it is only his loyalty to South Africa that would compromise a desire to take on arguably the top coaching job in cricket,” Stern wrote.
Interviews will be conducted by Hugh Morris, the England team’s managing director, in consultation with ECB vice-chairman Dennis Amiss, with a view to having the new coach in place for England’s home mini-series revenge opportunity against West Indies in May. (I’d venture, for what it’s worth, that the appointee would get off to a morale-lifting, winning start.)
According to Stern, should Arthur take the job it would leave Duncan Fletcher -- ironically engaged by the former as a consultant for the successful campaign in Australia -- as an “obvious replacement” for the Proteas, creating “the mouth-watering prospect of the two former colleagues going head to head next December when England tour South Africa”.
Arthur will have had four years in the Proteas hot seat come May; that is a decent tenure. Some might venture that it is also an appropriate ceiling and that renewal, fresh challenges and new faces in strategic terms are healthy things.
It would be a comfort for South Africa if Arthur did, indeed, proceed to the World Cup with them and a little beyond. But even comfort, as they say, can become too … well, comfortable.
I apologise in advance if my “Mickey for England” theory turns out to be a flaky pie in a deluded sky. But I just can’t help feeling there’ll be meat to go with this pastry.