'Youngsters should approach Twenty20 cautiously'
Shortly after having quit as Bangladesh coach after India's tour there last year, Dav Whatmore put his hand up for the India job, one of the most challenging assignments for a coach. He missed out but shrugged off the disappointment by taking over as director of operations at India's National Cricket Academy. Earlier this year he coached the Indian Under-19 team to a World Cup victory in Kuala Lumpur. Now in charge of the A team, Whatmore spoke to Cricinfo in Hyderabad about his experiences since having landed in India.
You've had quite a rollercoaster year and a half after being in contention to coach India, Pakistan and West Indies. Now you're in charge of an interesting bunch of Indian youngsters. What has the journey been like for you?
It's been extreme (laughs). Extreme in missing out on positions you thought you might get, being away from family... I was unemployed for a few months and made a return thanks largely to the efforts of Ravi Shastri, who was appointed NCA chairman. He was confident I could do the job for him.
You seem to have this special affinity for subcontinental teams, having coached Sri Lanka and Bangladesh before. What keeps bringing you back here? Does the culture fascinate you?
Definitely. There's no question I'm very comfortable in this environment. I was very close to getting an interview with Cricket Australia. It was a case of receiving an offer and accepting it, and it so happened that it came from India.
One of the challenges of a foreign coach is to interact with players in a language he's not familiar with. How did you tackle that?
They may not be fluent in English but they understand bits and pieces. I've been threatening to learn Hindi, to get a teacher to come three days a week or so. But they [the players] can feel my personality. I don't think it's as much of an issue as people think. A lot of the Bangladesh players struggled. But generally there are enough people to ensure the message is understood.
You made a quick transition from coaching senior teams to U-19 ones. What are the differences?
In many ways they are similar. The more mature the group - not necessarily in terms of age - the less time you spend in the development and technical phases. You do, of course, need feedback and modification from time to time. For the less mature players you need to constantly feed them with technical stuff in order to turn them into well-rounded players.
Some youngsters often have attitude issues, with respect to training and handling fame especially. Have you ever had to deal with that?
I don't think so. When it comes to training, the attitude from all of them has been positive. Nothing jumps out in my mind as an example.
People are different. Some are more confident, some withdraw in life, but that's to be expected.
Do you think it's a must for players to attend seminars on how to handle the sudden attention from the media and public?
Absolutely. The U-19 team that's just finishing up their two months or nine weeks with us had an introduction to handling media with [the broadcaster] Charu Sharma. They also had a similar session on handling finances. We only had three-and-a-half weeks with the emerging players and A team, and there's not a whole lot you can do in that time.
As far as the core programme with the senior guys goes, we're trying to blow that up to six to eight weeks. It's extremely important to understand just how the media works. A lot of these guys just don't know.
The U-19 World Cup was the perfect tournament - you were undefeated throughout. What gave India the edge?
I thought India were better prepared. I'm not saying that because I was involved. Long before I came along, somebody had the decent vision to prepare these guys well, invest in practice matches, and I understand they went on five tours. The experience of travelling and winning is very important when a World Cup approaches, especially at the U-19 level. These guys had done more of that than the other teams. They'd had a lot of exposure to domestic cricket. The higher your cricket is domestically, the better you are at representative cricket.
There are cricketers who have to endure the disappointment of not being picked, especially if it's through the duration of a tournament. How do you, as a coach, sit down and tell a player he's not good enough?
It takes care of itself in most cases. If you pick the right team, people generally know. Generally, in the cases where we've announced the playing XI the day before, I always make it a point to have a word with the players who've missed out before the news goes public. Nearly all the time in the U-19 set-up it took care of itself because we were winning. People understood it was difficult to make changes. We made a tactical change in the second match against South Africa, bringing in a spinner-batsman, but after that we reverted to our original combination, for good reasons. There weren't any openings for reserves to come in.
|Where we've announced the playing XI the day before, I always make it a point to have a word with the players who've missed out before the news goes public|
What sort of working relationship did you have with Virat Kohli and the rest?
I thoroughly enjoyed working with a bunch that had the desire and potential to go all the way - which they did. It was great to feel their belief in wanting to get somewhere. Virat's getting terrific opportunities, and we hope he continues that way. He's got belief in his own ability and the confidence to go with it. I think he'll have a long career as a senior Indian player. He just needs to channelise his mental strength in the right areas.
These days the support staff is almost as big as the playing XI. Does their presence relieve you of a lot of your responsibilities?
Definitely. In Bangladesh we had a fantastic local guy who'd organise fielding drills. He would take over after numerous little management meetings with the physio, fitness trainer and myself. That was very useful to me from the fielding aspect as I did not have to worry too much about that. Sometimes we'd have fielding sessions either during or after the nets. All that has to be decided in advance, and it's very important to get the right man for that job.
There's a proliferation of Twenty20 tournaments now with the IPL, ICL and the World Twenty20. Is it healthy for so many young players to get introduced to Twenty20 so early?
We've got to be careful. It generates much-needed funds. There's enough evidence that cricket boards want to put Twenty20 into perspective. It's a good debate, about youngsters taking to the game. Though it's essentially a young man's game, there's still room for some experience. It demands you to be good at more than one skill, to be able to contribute. The shorter you play, the more strength you need to clear the boundaries. I think U-19 players should play it, but not at the expense of their development in the four-day game. They should have an idea of how to go about it.
One bunch of raw youngsters struggling to cope with the demands of five-day cricket is Bangladesh. What are your observations on that?
It's clearly a reflection of the standard of domestic cricket. It's sometimes difficult for cricket boards to spend lots of money if the returns simply aren't good enough. Somewhere down the line they have to back their judgment. You just have to start paying your players well, and for that you've got to pump in a lot of money.
You should have team meetings the day before. You've got to employ a computer analyst, physio etc. The more money you pump in, the more you can use to push the players to perform better. Some of Bangladesh's one-day performances in the past have been a reflection of the financial rewards that exist in the shorter format.
Bangladesh did invest in building cricket stadiums across the country.
Those stadiums sprouted due to the U-19 World Cup. The ICC did a great thing by bringing in the infrastructure - the pitch covers, grass-cutters etc. But as I've said before, you've got to pump in money into the four-day format and make the guys want to play that format.
Maybe it's too much to expect such a young bunch to compete at the Test level. Do you think they need a few more years at the domestic level?
There is a good argument for that. The cricket board had to step in because the clubs and provinces weren't doing enough for the players. So they created the academy, an A-team structure. Those boys were trained well, physically and technically. You'd want players, thoroughbreds, who've been through the grind of domestic cricket - like Badrinath and Michael Hussey. But for that you need to have a proper domestic structure and you need to pump in money for that.
Sri Lanka struggled for many years, but you managed to turn their fortunes around.
Well, for a start, I took over just after they won their first away Test series, in New Zealand. I didn't really tamper with their senior players. I just played seven Tests and these guys had played a lot more. The least I could say was, "You know, you might want to get the elbow up a bit more", or something like that. I worked more with the juniors. With the older guys the feedback was more frequent. The people appreciated the fact that the training sessions were more structured and organised. We had access to the players seven days a week. We kept our sessions brief. There was a reason for having a hard session one day and not the next day.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a staff writer at Cricinfo