Whatmore upbeat as Aussies arrive
The Australians landed at Dhaka Airport on Thursday morning, fresh from the 3-0 clean sweep in South Africa last week, and Whatmore was under no illusions about the task that lies ahead. "Nothing's really changed in terms of the ICC rankings table," he told Cricinfo on the eve of the series. "We're still No. 10 and they're still No. 1."
Even so, in the three years since Whatmore took charge of the team, Bangladesh cricket has come a long way. His first series as coach was the corresponding tour to Australia in 2003, when two schoolmasterish centuries from Steve Waugh helped put an overawed side firmly in their place.
"There've been three years since we last played each other, and I feel the team's improved a little bit," said Whatmore. "We're playing in our own conditions, and they are going to have to adjust a bit to their last six months in South Africa and Australia. We're very keen to go out there and compete against the No.1 ranked team, knowing that we've played some good teams in the last three years.
Bangladesh's solitary Test series win came against Zimbabwe last year, but Whatmore was happy with the effort his players had been making in the intervening months. "We've put in some encouraging performances in terms of taking the games to the fifth day or late in the fourth day, having leads against the opposition, that sort of stuff," he said. "We'll be playing against a good side, but we're going to try really really hard."
The sense of anticipation surrounding the Australians' arrival has been heightened by memories of that extraordinary NatWest Series victory at Sophia Gardens last year, and Whatmore himself admitted that it was the one-day leg of this tour that was of greatest importance to him.
"After this series against Australia we've got no Test matches for 12 months, so I've got to say, I'm a bit more excited about the one-day game. We're getting a nice little group together, and I can only see it improving in next six to 12 months leading up to the World Cup. That's very important and it keeps me going, knowing that we are heading in the right direction in that form of the game."
Bangladesh took Sri Lanka to a decider in their recent three-match series, before routing Kenya 4-0, and Whatmore was mindful of the need to manage expectations among a public that has forever been hungry for success. "I'm pretty sure that the people here in Bangladesh will be very appreciative if the boys show a big fight," he said. "If we really show that the opposition has to work hard to win, then the expectation of the public I think will be satisfied. But within the cricket board, the players and the management, we want to push it, push it, push it, as far as we can."
Off the pitch, Bangladesh's development is continuing apace, with the inauguration of five new stadia and the establishment of a national academy. "The infrastructure is coming along," admitted Whatmore. "In broad terms, the domestic competitions are pretty much okay, with a good four-day competition in place, one-day cricket in place, and a Twenty20 tournament in place. We'll need some time to fertilise them and grow them and make them look nice, but I'm pretty sure there'll be a bit more money available next year. The necessary ingredients are here. We just need more time."
That much could equally be said of the national squad, which is benefiting from the identification of a talented crop of youngsters who were among the favourites for the recent Under-19 World Cup. "They played a really bad game in the quarter-final against England, who they had beaten eight times in a row not so long ago," explained Whatmore, "but at the end of the day, they still lost just one match. I'm sure that within six or 12 months, one or two of them will start to filter into the international team."
One of these players, the captain Mushfiqur Rahim, is already flitting around the fringes of the senior side. Having impressed on debut against England at Lord's last summer, he returned for the second Test against Sri Lanka at Bogra last month, but struggling, making 2 and 0. "The Sri Lanka Test was a tough one for him but we won't want to just play one or two games and get rid of him," said Whatmore. "We think he can play the longer game pretty well. He's only just starting off, but he's got good potential."
With the aggressive Shahadat Hossain emerging as a pace spearhead, and the spin pairing of Enamul Haque jr and Mohammad Rafique continuing to impress, the future looks bright for Bangladesh, especially now that their most talented batsman, Mohammad Ashraful, is beginning to make runs when they really count. "He has got tremendous potential - anyone can see that," said Whatmore. "But Ashraful himself will tell you he needs more consistency. He didn't have the best of Kenya series, but hopefully this next one will be more to his liking than Kenya."
All things told, Bangladesh will enter their next challenge with the confidence of a side on the up, and the lessons of last summer lodged firmly in their memory banks. "That tour [of England] was definitely a huge learning experience," stressed Whatmore. "To play in England at the early part of the summer is never an easy time, especially when playing against two good sides. But here we are in our own conditions, and all we can do is give it our best.
"Of course, everyone cares about winning or losing," he concluded, "but so long as you're really putting in your best, nobody can really can get angry. In our case, what is important is that we give our best every time we walk out there, because we can't afford not to."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo