September 19, 2013

Pakistan and the Whatmore factor

Mazher Arshad
The coach's tenure has coincided with a slump in the team's fortunes. The board needs to think about the 2015 World Cup and appoint someone else now

Before Whatmore joined Pakistan, Misbah had led the team to wins in five Test series out of seven © AFP

In the lead-up to the last day of the second Test in Harare, there were some comparisons drawn between this game and the nail-biter Pakistan won by one wicket a decade ago against Bangladesh in Multan. By the end of the match there remained only one thing in common: the coach of the losing side in both instances was Dav Whatmore.

It is probably justifiable to say that when Whatmore was appointed Pakistan coach in March 2012, it was the first time he had taken charge of an established international team. It might sound a bit harsh on Sri Lanka, but they had won only four of the 58 Tests and 49 of the 185 ODIs they had played until 1995, when Whatmore took charge. Bangladesh had hardly anything to boast about apart from the 1999 World Cup win against Pakistan when Whatmore became their coach in 2003. Even Whatmore's IPL experience - he was named Kolkata Knight Riders coach after they finished last in 2009 - is with a team far from established.

If you look at Pakistan's recent record before Whatmore became their coach, they had just whitewashed England 3-0 and lost only one out of their last 15 Tests.

Under Whatmore, Pakistan have given the impression of not knowing how to win. After the defeat in Harare, a tweet summed up the outcome of the match: "Pakistan needed to pay the price for showing the mindset of a minor side."

This minnow mindset has been Pakistan's main problem in recent times. In the last six months, three times they have failed to beat weaker sides - twice in Harare and once in Dublin, where they could have lost the series too if not for the unexpected batting heroics of Kamran Akmal and Wahab Riaz. On three occasions in the last year, the bowlers failed to defend 15 runs in the last over: Mohammad Sami against Sri Lanka, Saeed Ajmal against Ireland and Wahab Riaz against West Indies.

It can be argued that Pakistan are no strangers to squandering winning positions, and that it is not Whatmore who is blundering out there on the field in the clutch moments. But he should be severely disappointed that his side has shown no improvement on that front.

Pakistan came close to winning the ODI series against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka and against Australia in the UAE last year, but it didn't amount to any significant progress. The Cape Town Test was a similar story. Even the Asia Cup win had two closely fought matches, including the final, against Bangladesh. The Champions Trophy was a debacle. The ODI series win against Zimbabwe wasn't convincing either. Apart from ODI series in India and the West Indies, Pakistan have won nothing significant under Whatmore.

Sri Lanka's 1996 World Cup win, Whatmore's biggest success story, didn't win him many admirers either. In fact Arjuna Ranatunga, the captain of that side, warned Pakistan against appointing him when he was shortlisted for the post.

The PCB's decision to appoint Mohammad Akram as bowling coach seems to have compounded the error. Akram was picked despite not satisfying the PCB's criteria of five years of experience. Comic scenes ensued in the Abbottabad camp, to which the PCB had also invited Wasim Akram. At a press conference, Junaid Khan was asked if it was difficult to have advice coming from two different bowling coaches. Junaid replied: "When Wasim bhai teaches us something, Akram bhai stands beside and nods." The response led to much hilarity and a follow-up question on whether the bowling coach was also learning from Wasim.

Misbah-ul-Haq is often blamed for his defensive mindset, but just before Whatmore took over, the same set of players led by him won five out of seven Test series without losing any, and became the first team in 100 years to win a Test after being bowled out for under 100 in the first innings. Misbah also captained successfully in three of the four domestic tournaments he played in last season - the President's Trophy (first-class), the Faysal Bank Super Eight T-20 Cup and the President's Cup One Day tournament. All three tournaments featured Pakistan's top players.

History suggests that foreign coaches - Bob Woolmer being an exception - don't do well with Pakistan. In 2003, when Richard Pybus was in charge, they beat only Namibia and Netherlands. Geoff Lawson's 15-month tenure didn't bear fruit either. Jonty Rhodes came to Pakistan to improve their fielding skills; in the next Test they dropped five catches on the first day.

On the other hand, Pakistan have won both their world titles with a local coach, Intikhab Alam, who is the only coach after John Buchanan to have won two world titles. They reached the final of the 1999 World Cup under Mushtaq Mohammad. If the World Cup 2011 campaign can be considered a mini-success, the coach was again a Pakistani, Waqar Younis. The two consecutive Under-19 World Cup wins, in 2004 and 2006, came under Aaqib Javed.

According to recent media reports, neither Whatmore nor the PCB want to extend his contract, which ends in March 2014, ten months before the World Cup. In between March and the World Cup 2015, Pakistan have only nine ODIs scheduled (three each against New Zealand, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe). So the new coach will have little time to prepare the team for the World Cup.

The board is not in a position to terminate Whatmore's contract at the moment, because not only will it have to pay him for the rest of his contract, such a move will also not help the PCB's reputation for dealing poorly with coaches. Lawson, the previous foreign coach, was also removed prematurely.

What the PCB needs to do now is appoint a new coach, preferably one from Pakistan, who can handle players and selection matters, so that he gets enough time to settle before the World Cup, even if that means sidelining Whatmore to a role in the National Cricket Academy or the Under-19 team.

Mazher Arshad is a freelance writer in Pakistan. He tweets here