'My goal is to be honest to the job' - Whatmore
In an exclusive interview with Wisden CricInfo, Whatmore tells Nagraj Gollapudi that he may have almost put his career on the line by accepting to train Bangladesh. But he and his players have enough confidence to effect a turnaround of fortunes, no matter how tiny, in Bangladesh cricket. Excerpts from the interview:
"A big chunk of my job is getting players to be a little bit more responsible for their own actions ..."
The ICC didn't have to do anything. It was just a case of the timing being the right for the employer and the timing being right for the employee. I was looking for another challenge (after Sri Lanka). Often things don't come at the right time, but this one did. After Sri Lanka, I was considering one or two other options, but this was more tempting. I was putting my reputation on the line a bit and had to direct a lot of energy towards the Bangladesh job.
How difficult is it to coach a weak team?
It has different degrees of difficulty. The team has been underperfoming for some time and my number one job is to get the team back to playing good cricket. That will take some time, as you need to address a number of areas. The areas that need to be primarily focussed on at the moment are getting proper training, the right facilities, identifying the sort of talent required at this level, and to try to improve existing flaws. And for that, I need to understand everything about Bangladesh cricket. But I can tell you that the rewards will be far greater than [coaching] other countries.
When you took over as Sri Lankan coach, they were a weak team till you transformed them into the stronger side that we see know. Do you see any parallels with Bangladesh?
Yes, it's true that Sri Lanka weren't as strong back in 1995 as they are now, but if you compare both the teams, I think Sri Lanka were stronger than Bangladesh. Their win-loss ratio was better and they had some reasonable individuals who had a decent amount of experience under their belt. So it's not so much of a similarity; rather, it's more of a contrast.
What are your immediate goals?
Number one would be to be very, very honest to this job. Sometimes honesty can hurt people, but in the long term you'll get the due respect, and it gives you a better chance of getting the job done. If you're honest, you will need to communicate with the players, be frank about telling them where they stand and what needs to be done to improve. Definitely we need to put in a lot of hard work to work on individual cricketing standards. So it's a combination of teaching a whole host of areas built up over the years and an express bid to increase individual performance so that, at the end of the day, you get a competitive score.
So, on those lines, would you say the recent Australian tour was a success?
It was my first trip with the team, and yes, there were some definite positives, since the number of mistakes made were less. But I am a little bit guarded about making judgements just purely because of the strength of the opposition. Australia have whitewashed many opponents, so I will be careful not to jump to conclusions.
David Hookes, the former Aussie player, had called on Australia to annihilate Bangladesh inside a day. Is the team proud that they proved him wrong to an extent?
We came to understand that a certain section of the Australian press always makes some noise, and that doesn't bother you at all. No matter who travels there, there's always a section of journalists who like to chase you out. But that's fine as long as it doesn't affect your cricket.
But are the Bangladesh players mature enough to take these remarks in their stride?
Well, a lot of the boys don't understand negative publicity. Newspapers aren't read that much; they listen to radio and watch some TV on the tour. So I don't think it makes much of an impact.
Do you think the players have their basics right? During the Australia series, you mentioned that some of them couldn't decide on the right kind of approach on the field?
They have the potential and the basics, no question about that. It is just a matter of how disciplined they're in their mind in terms of making right and wrong decisions. The more right decisions you make, no matter what you're doing, it's the way forward. So my part - a big chunk of my job - is getting players to be a little bit more responsible for their own actions and get them to practise these things during training or in the match.
So did the team lack the right kind of approach so far?
I have got to be guarded when I answer that one. I'm aware of the results so far - after our sole win back in 1999 - but I am not here to comment on what was provided to the team before me. But what I know is I am aware of the situation and am looking forward, with a fair degree of confidence, positivity and the knowledge that what we're doing is right and will eventually work.
What are the lessons learnt from the Australian tour?
I am sure the lessons are nothing new - the value of taking catches, throwing to the stumps, watching your opposition bat through tough periods of time and getting through, having a sustained bowling effort. All these things were watched by me and the players, and it requires a lot of commitment and effort to outrun the competition. I am sure these things were pointed out in the past but it's a matter of really sticking it in your head.
You had earlier mentioned about the need for honesty. The captain of the team Khaled Mahmud, with a batting average of 11.25 and a "record" bowling average of 406 - seems a liability. What do you do then?
I said being honest about everyone, and that includes the captain. I've had a couple of honest and frank discussions with him, and he knows what the situation is. I am backing him at the moment because he's captain and I will give him more time, just as I would with any other captain.
Who are the youngsters who have so far raised their hands in building up the team?
Well, it's usually not good to name individuals, but there a few who are really trying their best to peform. Hannan Sarkar is one who with his sheer hard-work - he scored two half-centuries after starting with a duck against Australia in the Test series - and his willingness to change according to the conditions and play safe has reflected on teammates. Then there's the young fast bowler, Marshafe Mortaza, who goes about his work with an objective every time he bowls. So these kind of players can enhance the team's performance.
Finally, is there any time-frame you have set for yourself to achieve your personal goals?
To give a definitive answer is very difficult. It will take a bit of time, but it will show in trends rather than a specific sort of time and result.