'The software needs improvement'
Depending on which way you are looking at it, Dav Whatmore has either had the easiest or the hardest job in world cricket for the last four years. There were no expectations to manage, and starting at the bottom, Bangladesh could only have gone up. But conversely, dealing with failure daily and having to work with meager resources and lack of knowledge could have been draining. Whatmore, it must be said, has coped. He kept his chin up through defeats and kept his feet on the ground after the odd moment of glory.
The World Cup brought Bangladesh's finest hours, but somehow aptly, it also ended gloomily, with a defeat at the hands of Ireland in the penultimate match. Whatmore announced his resignation a day after the World Cup campaign ended, but he says it was always meant to be that way.
This interview was conducted a couple of hours after his resignation had become public and Whatmore spoke candidly about a wide range of topics. About Bangladesh cricket, he didn't hide his frustrations, but neither did he let it cloud his optimism.
This will be your last series with Bangladesh. There are clear signs that Bangladesh cricket has progressed under you, so what made you give it up?
After four years, I just felt that the time was right to move on. In those four years I've been away from family, which wasn't the case in Sri Lanka - we'd made a home in Colombo. So we knew that when I took up the job in Bangladesh, we were going to be apart.
I guess it was a slow build-up over that time. The team has improved and I just get the feeling that the time is right. And, together with the Bangladesh Cricket Board, we have agreed that at the end of May we should part ways.
How was coaching Bangladesh different from coaching Sri Lanka?
We are in the process of becoming a competitive team, and we have shown some really good examples of what this team is can do. We are becoming consistent but we have to get a lot more consistent. When you are developing, you are working with boys who are trying, boys who are a product of their own culture. Domestic cricket here has not been as well developed as in India, Pakistan and the western countries. So you are expecting these boys to play locally and then pick them to play pretty tough international competition. To me that is the number one thing that needs to be addressed over time and it is being addressed - they are doing as good a job as possible in preparing a tough domestic competition from which you pick the national team. Then you have to look at their background, their ability to understand, the ability to then go and apply it. It's all to do with being able to cope with stressful situations. And this is where the boys fail a bit. I mean, they can play fantastic shots as batsmen, but being able to make the right decisions in stressful situations in the issue.
Yes, sometimes I wonder about basic cricket knowledge. We know that when a right-hand batsman is facing a left-arm fast bowler trying to bowl quick across your body, trying to pull is harder, and that is the natural thing that you expect to be taught when you are younger but it is unheard of. The lack of basic knowledge is a bit staggering really. When these young cricketers were growing up in youth cricket, they weren't told about the basics of cricket.
How much of the batting really flows naturally and how much can be
You can teach. If there is an area that is weak, improve that. But not to the point where, if you have a favourite shot and a least favourite shot, no matter how much you practice you are not going to bring it up to the level of the favourite shot. But you can improve skills in areas where you are deficient and it is enough to get you out of trouble. People are bouncing you all the time and knowing how to handle it and to be in a position to get there a fraction earlier will help you.
But coaching Bangladesh is perhaps very different from
coaching any other international side.
Not so very different but the boys need more guidance, a bit more technical assistance.
|I want to see a nice ordinary guy doing extraordinary things on the field. I want people to look at you and admire you for what you do|
First of all, we have jumped from 9 to 8.
But, that's because Zimbabwe have disintegrated completely.
Now they have, they were still beating us earlier. Only about a year ago, when we went there they won 3-2. On the next tour, inside 12 months, we beat them 3-1. It's significant for us to go to Zimbabwe and win there. For the first time, we went out and won outside our home conditions. To win abroad was still a difficult task for us at that time. But now we can. That's an indication of the team growing.
Is there a belief now that at your very best you can compete with anybody?
We have shown we can win a game. We have done so against Australia, South Africa, India twice, Sri Lanka and New Zealand in a practice match. When you are looking at progress in the team, you will also have boys like Rafique, who are getting on in years. We might make a change or two with our senior players and we might have a horrific loss of form with a good youngster. Teams will change. We are averaging around 23 years but there will still be some changes. You have to be lucky sometimes to be around with an era of good youngsters coming through. At the moment we are okay, we have found Saqibul Hasan, Aftab Ahmed, Tamim Iqbal, a few more coming around too. When you look at the prognosis you have to contend with that too, other teams are also facing the same thing. Are they going to move further ahead, or will we bridge the gap? It's not always easy to forecast.
What you can confidently project is that the domestic competition can get better. They are going to put more money into the four-day game. Parallel to that is the cricket board's commitment to developing the under-19 programme, which has a World Cup every two years. We have done very well in that.
That's one of the noticeable changes. There seems to be a sense of
confidence and belonging among the guys who have come through the under-19
route that wasn't the case 4-5 years earlier.
They have the added advantage of being exposed to more contemporary coaching and techniques, because we have had a couple of Aussies here. We still haven't got the infrastructure and facilities like other countries. Maybe even India, what they've got is more than what has been the case in the past. The youngsters are getting a bit more confident with the help of the Australians coming in and coaching them. Now that they have done well in the World Cup, it has given their confidence a boost. It's a snowballing effect. I want to see temperament in the team. I want to see a nice ordinary guy doing extraordinary things on the field. I want people to look at you and admire you for what you do.
A lot of them have the hardware, but the software they need to improve on. We have all seen Aftab Ahmed play unbelievable shots but he get to the 20s and gets out. His intensity is high because he has always had this desire to do well. He has learnt fairly quickly and we all can see it. It's a big contrast from what it began as. He is a brilliant fielder too. But he needs to be more disciplined. It needs a bit of discipline to ensure you get to that timing in the middle just flows.
The two teams you beat in this World Cup you beat quite comprehensively, it wasn't a fluke. It wasn't that you beat them on their off day. You beat them because you were the better team
I always felt that when we start well we are much better. If we don't start that well, then it becomes a much bigger job to bring it back in line. This has happened very often. The ability is there, but sometimes it just clicks. So it may be that on those days you don't have to be as disciplined to get into the zone. That doesn't happen very often, that's when you have to work to get through difficult periods to be in that comfortable zone. That's when sometimes the boys don't work hard enough. They are better used to slogging rampantly to get out of trouble. They are trying to work harder now in terms of discipline. But still some way to go!
But there were times when they just couldn't close out anything. They would get themselves to a winning situation and blow it. We have seen in a couple of Test matches, it happens a bit more now.
We were close to winning against Australia. It was so much of a disbelief. We had a lead of 150. We got out in the second innings with a target of 300 plus for Australia to get. The one thing that everyone overlooked was the condition of the pitch. You could have played eight days on it. The bloody thing wouldn't turn either, and still if Mashrafe [Mortaza] had taken Ponting's catch we would have been close to winning a Test match. We were close on Pakistan too, but we were desperately unlucky with a few decisions. There have been some good first innings performances in Test matches. The players are not versatile enough, batting in the second innings is not the same as batting in the first innings. They still haven't acquired this skill completely. It will happen, with the help of the four-day games in domestic cricket.
Now a tough question. There is a belief that Bangladesh are not yet Test -ready and it actually doesn't help anyone, including themselves, if they get beaten hopelessly so often. We have seen how competing and winning against Zimbabwe and other Associates has helped develop their one-day game. Would not a similar approach help them develop their Test cricket too?
The fact that we play a few associate countries in one-day internationals gives us the winning habit and keeps the boys doing well. We haven't played Test match cricket in 12 months but, in the games that we did play, there were some very encouraging signs though at the end of the day we were still beaten. There are two schools of approach to this; one is as you have put it, and the other is to continue playing games against strong opposition so you understand the level of competition, what you have to do over a five-day period to end up winning.
Can Bangladesh look at the possibility of playing Duleep Trophy to improve their abilities at Test cricket, instead of being thrashed by teams like Australia?
I don't think its possible. But I am aware that the cricketing world wants to see a strong Bangladesh Test team because it has naturally the ingredients in the country - the population, the interest, the money, it has all the prerequisites that you think they need to become a pretty decent team in time. How we get there is the question. We are a full member country, I don't think stripping it will help. What we need is assistance. Maybe it is a course of thinking that would be acceptable to the cricket board and also to the ICC and other countries.
That they consider this as an interim situation, where we don't play as many a games against full members but to do something similar to what we have done in the one-day competition, especially when we play higher ranked teams. It has to be done with everyone's full cooperation, with the express concern being that we need Bangladesh to be a strong team in Test cricket. It has to be something like an interim condition, where they remain a full member country. We need to create conditions for them to compete and play proper Test cricket.
Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo