Transcript: Couch Talk with Dav Whatmore

Couch Talk 119 (Play)

Guest: Dav Whatmore

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello, and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is Dav Whatmore, who was recently the head coach of Pakistan. Coach Whatmore talks about working in the subcontinent and dealing with various national boards, leading the Sri Lankan team to World Cup win in 1996, handling various captains such as Misbah (ul Haq) and (Arjuna) Ranatunga, amongst other things.

Welcome to the show, Coach!

Dav Whatmore (DW)– Thank you very much!

SJ– It is absolutely my pleasure having a world cup winning coach on my show!

DW– No no, it is a pleasure to be with you!

SJ– Thank you!

Would it be fair to say that you had moderate success as a cricketer and you had mentioned this in an interview 10 years ago, in Sunday Observer, that you had the ability and the talent, but you did not apply yourself?

DW– Yes, more or less. What you are trying to say is right, there is no question about my ability as a player. I found that when I got to the final pinnacle of competition, which is international cricket, that is when I found that my mental strength wasn’t as strong as it should be. There were some reasons for it. There was also a solution, which could have been to my advantage… But, the thing is there were no coaches in those days. I needed somebody to tell me that I was good. I just had too many self doubts. That was my problem. I found that to be of terrific help to me as a coach.

SJ– I wanted to mention that because in that interview I quoted, you’d said that you rued the fact that you hadn’t had any assistance from a coach who would have helped you get rid of your self-doubts. Is there anything else that could have helped out your playing career? And, how did that pave the way for you to be a better coach?

DW– No, that was the only single area that prevented me from having a long international cricket career, to be honest with you. I was good as a fielder, took a lot of catches. I enjoyed fielding. I had a terrific ability and talent with the bat in terms of technique. Unfortunately, the mental strength was the one that failed me. If I had some assistance from somebody at that point, that would have allowed me to have a long career. What I failed in, is I knew what other boys would be going through with their careers. With the results of me being a failure in that area, I was very keen to ensure that I could help others to realise the potential of their respective careers if I was able to assist in their areas. That has helped me become a much better coach over the years.

SJ– Are there specific examples that pop up in your mind where you helped another Dav Whatmore in, say, Pakistan or Sri Lanka or Bangladesh?

DW– Well, all i can say that the younger players coming through, they needed a lot of reassurances of their good. With players who are like Superstars, like say (Muttiah) Muralitharan, when I was with Sri Lanka, and (Sanath) Jayasuriya for that matter – was to take pressure off. In those cases, there is a huge amount of expectation every time they go out to bowl or bat, they don’t need any more pressure. It was my position to take the pressure off. Whereas a younger player coming through needed more of a caring parent type of approach in the sense that you need to give a lot of confidence and reassurance.

SJ– Especially, in the subcontinent there are a lot of players playing in the international arena before they are mentally ready for it, isn’t it?

DW– That can happen time to time. That is the area, rightly or wrongly, a certain player gets selected. The real testing ground. It can become a real problem for some players. And those players need the help and assistance. That is what the coach is there for.

SJ– In your time with Bangladesh, that is one nation that comes to mind immediately. That had a lot of players coming through in a very short time. for example – Mohammad Ashraful, even the captain right now – Mushfiqur Rahim – very young characters.

DW– And, Shakib ul Hassan as well. look, it is great to see that boys coming through have the ability. Once you see that in a player, that really does fill your heart with joy that you know that you have a good player in your team. Now, it is a case of ensuring that they come up with their performances, not only for them to feel good, but for the team to win. It was wonderful to see. First and foremost, that selection was identifying boys who actually have the ability to make it and with the case of having a stronger mind to take that last step into converting it into performances.

SJ– I want to talk about your coaching stint with Sri Lanka, especially the 1996 World Cup you went on to win. It was your first assignment as a national head coach, and you did that by winning the World Cup. Did that put any pressure on you, in the sense, you have won it and you were expected to perform miracles anywhere you went. Was that sort of pressure on you?

DW– Yes, there was. Hard to say, but thankfully, ignorance is bliss. I kept telling myself that the players did it, not me. I certainly had a hand in it. it is all about the balance whether the team wins it or loses – a coach has a percentage of influence in all performances . But ultimately, it is the players that should get the bulk of the credit when they do well. Conversely, when they also don’t do well, they share responsibility as do the coach.

Having come in to international cricket and taste terrific amount of success in a very short time… And before the World Cup, Sri Lanka had won in Pakistan in both Tests and ODIs as well. In a very short space of time, they had a lot of success and their expectations were correct.

SJ– You said that you had some hand – I am assuming you are understating it , what was the more visible as well as hidden effects of Whatmore as a coach on that 1996 World Cup winnings Sri Lankan squad?

DW– In that World Cup squad – that was just a magnificent group of players. They had just realised their potential. My role in that, basically, was to create the right environment, to give positive feedback when needed. I spent a bit more time with the younger players rather than the seniors, to really ensure, with captain Arjuna, that we had prepared as well as we can – both from tactical point of view and technical point of view. There was one match, I remember, against England at Faisalabad in a quarter final, where we went out to practice having only arrived in the city that morning and we had a game the next day. It was a tough schedule.  We were out there to practice, England didn’t. We heard everyone saying that because we practiced, we won. But, we just didn’t want to leave any stone unturned. My role during that lovely 6 week period was to ensure that we had a very healthy environment from which we can go ahead and get the right result, given that we had a terrific amount of skill in that XI.

SJ– There was Mark Greatbach in the 1992 World Cup taking advantage of the 30-yard circle. But then, you had Romesh Kaluwitharana and Jayasuriya, thereby extending the batting line up. they played [up the order] in the tri-series ahead of the World Cup as well. how much was it your input, and how much was it Arjuna’s?

DW– It wasn’t mine, I have to be very honest, and I have been right throughout the years to admit that. The suggestion had come from the manager, Duleep Mendis. He came to me one evening while we were playing the Australians just before the 1996 World Cup, and said “how about if we open up with Romesh Kaluwitharana and Sanath?” because, Romesh is one of the sweetest hitters of the cricket ball. The way he was batting, he bats normally at no.7 with the field spread, and he would often get out in the outfield playing some decent shots, I will have to say. As soon as Duleep mentioned it, I saw the sense in it immediately. i very much supported it and watered it and fertilized it and let it flourish. I gave confidence to both of these boys to just be themselves. I can honestly tell you that in every team meeting that I was with, and I was the coach of that team, that we never ever asked them to go out and give us 10-12 runs in an over. That was never said in a team meeting. But what was said was, the idea of them batting is, to let people know that we could be 2/0 the way we play, but not to worry because the next 5 batsmen are all capable of getting 100s in their own right. It was my indirect way of saying “be yourselves, be aggressive, and don’t worry about getting out, if you happen to get out, because we have some very good players coming behind you.” It worked. Nothing like, a person going out to bat without any pressure on their shoulders.

SJ– As an Indian fan watching Manoj Prabhakar bowling off spin to Sanath Jayasurya was……….

DW– That was a Round (Robin) match in Delhi in that World Cup.

SJ– You worked as a coach in 4 of the Asian nations – as head coach of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan – and in India with NCA and with Kolkata Knight Riders.

DW– And the A-team and the u-19 as well.

SJ– Of course, of course.

What do you see as the various challenges in these very different places?

DW– The challenge really is to get ahead of the game if you can, particularly in Pakistan. It is a very tricky environment to be in. The players themselves don’t make much of a difference. They are all willing to work hard, they all want to do well for themselves, they all want to have a long career in all three formats of the game. so, from that point of view, not too much difference. But, working with the administration, working with the selectors, working with the media are all big challenges. I felt more of that in Pakistan than I felt in the other three countries. So, it was a bit of a tricky situation from time to time. but thankfully, after two years of my contract, I decided not to renew my contract and we left on very amicable terms.

SJ– In a recent interview, you had said that in the subcontinent, it takes generations to change cultural divides and mindsets. Can you expand further on it – In the sense, if you are the head coach of a cricket team and you are constantly fighting these mind sets, then you are not actually doing the job that you are hired to do?

DW– You can say that in those words, Subash, but to be successful in environments like that, you can’t change them overnight. That is what I am trying to say. Any major changes that is borne out of a cultural background takes a very long time. it is almost a generation or two before things change. For me to come and clash the cymbals and beat the drums will be absolutely stupid. That is not going to happen, you are not going to change overnight. And people who think that they are going to get the Miracle Whatmore will get immediate results, it is just not going to be. I was very keen to take on that position because I honestly thought I could make a difference. At the end of that period, I had left with a lot more experience in my head in cricket from that part of the world and I am sure the other boys also had terrific experience in working with the person from abroad who had actually lasted those two years. It is a case of being perceptive than judgmental.

SJ– There was this wonderful letter when you were hired as a Pakistan head coach from Henry Lawson. When looking back on that letter, how much of that was actually true, and how much of it were you prepared for it? was there satisfaction in how you left the team?

DW– A lot of that stuff didn’t apply to me as such. Henry Lawson was on a hiding to nothing, I felt. It was great that he had held the position at that time. He had a lot of opportunity to get experience from working in those conditions, but didn’t last very long because people were unaware of the environment that they work in. It takes a lot of patience to understand the way you are and whom you are dealing with. It didn’t surprise me, he is not the only one. There have been a number of examples in the past – like Greg Chappell with India. also Ric Charlesworth with hockey in India, another recent example of people who are unable to absorb the environment and understand that the cultural differences cannot be changed overnight. If you want to do something, you have to chip away at it, you have to work at it, you have to change the views very slowly. It doesn’t change overnight. It takes two years. In my case, it was all that I had.

SJ– But, whatever success you achieved, as you said you left on your own terms – what was your approach to this immovable force of bureaucracy /board-politics?

DW– Well, let’s just say that when you have a change of leadership – I am talking about right at the top – Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board changed thrice in just a few months from Mr. Zakha Ashraf to Najam Sethi back to Ashraf and now again to Mr. Sethi who is in charge of the cricket board. Leadership like that changes like a stroke of a pen, and it becomes very difficult to feel secure in any position – whether you are a player, administrator, selector, or a coach. It requires very careful treading of your power play in terms of achieving what you want to do with the team as well as looking after yourself as well, and the employment point of view. So, Subash, I am telling you, that was a very dicey situation, you know, you have to be very careful. As I said before, I was very pleased that I was able to leave with my head held high, and also, leave with many friends in a number of areas in Pakistan.

SJ– OK.  In your coaching tenure with all these different nations and different levels, you have worked with several captains. I want to talk about that in terms of your working relationship with them on and off the field. Most recently you worked with Misbah. With Sri Lanka, you worked with Arjuna.

DW– And Sanath.

SJ– Of course. I am just naming a few. Gautam Gambhir, Habibul Bashar, so on and so forth. What was it like? You spanned nearly two decades…

DW– All those players, there have been some great players that you mentioned, it has always been a very healthy professional relationship. There hasn’t been too many hours that you spend time socially. Sure, you need to do that from time to time, but there is some mutual respect from each others, players, form a professional relationship that will reflect how you go about with your work. Happily, I can say that I have enjoyed working with a number of different leadership styles. I have adapted myself to those approaches from different types of leaders and I am sure that I have been able to assist those captains in a job that is a difficult thing to do.

SJ– I want to specifically talk about the two of those captains – Arjuna and Misbah. First of all, about Arjuna, and there is a question from listener Vish – What is it like, working with someone who comes across as a very head-strong, shrewd, tough like Arjuna Ranatunga. And, how do you ensure that a strong personality like that does not encroach on to your role as a coach?

DW– Oh no, we had no problems from a professional point of view. He was a very, very good  captain, a very strong leader. At the same time, it would surprise a few to say that I thought he was more democratic than what some people would think. He portrayed an image of a really tough man, at times he would take the final decision and he would support himself that he would command that everyone else would defend it. At many times, it worked. He was a leader in a couple of very sensitive issues that happened particularly with Muralitharan, and a few other events that happened in his time. To me, he was a pretty decent family man. He had good values. And despite his weight, he would do certain things which were different to others. But, he was a bit more democratic than you would think. At the end of the day, he made decisions on the field and defended them, and had the support and the respect of everyone else in the team. Whatever decisions he took in terms of cricketing decisions, was supported 100% from everyone.

Misbah, on the other hand though, he was working in an environment is a little bit more volatile. As I said, players come and go, chairmen of cricket boards come and go. It is always a dicey situation. But, Misbah is a very strong character and a very strong character who absolutely bleeds Pakistan cricket in his blood. It was an absolute pleasure to work with a player who shared loyalty many times to players and spoke up in defence of those players even if they failed I failed once or twice. If we believed and if he believed in a player, he would absolutely back him and defend him in selection to ensure that we had some kind of continuity in all the formats of the game. His own personal contribution to Pakistan in all of the formats has been wonderful. Without his contribution in many games, we would have been in big trouble.

SJ– I want to talk a little bit about media in the subcontinent. It is a beast, especially during your tenure in Pakistan. There is a question from James – how did you deal with this rather incessant constant opinion makers, ex-Pakistani players constantly sniping through the media. In your tenure, how did you handle that?

DW– Very difficult, I have to tell you. In hindsight, it was good that I didn’t understand too much of Urdu. I certainly couldn’t read it. i was protected a lot more from the criticism that comes your way. Sadly, to me there was a little show of nationalism. There always seems to be people advancing their views in terms of pushing different players in the XI at the detriment of whoever was in the team at the moment at that time. Regardless of what you did, there was always criticism, unjust criticism. A lot of it came to the captain, a bit of it came to me on the principle that I was a foreigner. To be very honest to you, I didn’t feel that it was a personal attack, it was a case of them promoting their own person for whatever reasons at the expense of me. it was difficult for me to accept that because it took a little bit of time to understand at that time what was going on. When I did, it still hurts. Nevertheless, that is the way it is in Pakistan. You have to grin and bear it and move on.

SJ– In a recent interview, you had said that the psyche of a Pakistani cricketer is that they have to look after themselves because nobody else will. Is it coming out of the volatile nature around them? How should the Pakistani player be insulated from that?

DW– That is what I said, and I honestly believe that – unless these guys can do what they need to do for themselves there is no guarantee of anyone else doing  it for them. We spoke a little bit about the captain’s support. Although he has not got a support on selection and neither have I, the player very rarely feel secure in the knowledge that they are going to have a career as a cricketer in the various formats. As soon as a player starts to fail or has a bad series, there is every chance that the player will no longer be in the team.  It arises from all these media creating so much hype, it affects the decisions made by the cricket board. That is a sad thing because it is not very easy to function in that environment.

SJ– You talked about yourself as a cricketer where you didn’t think you fulfilled all the talent and ability you had. In your coaching tenure did you come across a player that you thought had all the potential and talent but just couldn’t convert it on the field? Was there someone you felt you could help, but couldn’t, someone that was frustrating for you?

DW– Well, yes. I have certainly felt that towards Mohammed Ashraful when I was in Bangladesh. As it turned out, he has been playing a different game from time to time as well, which was a very naughty thing to do. it is reflects on my ability as a coach to get the best out of a player. He had so much ability. I kept racking my brains on how the hell can I get this guy to become more consistent. From time to time, the other factors come into it, as we all know now. Certainly, there are other examples of players who need to be more consistent with their performances. We know what they can do, they just need to show that they can repeat more often than not rather than thinking “I have got one good score, I am OK for the next 2-3 matches.” That is really not the way to go about. These are the things that can keep you up at night as a coach.

SJ– I want to briefly touch upon your time with the NCA in India. when you joined it, what did you think of the system. Since you joined, what has changed under your leadership there? How did you see the NCA? From the outside looking in, it looks like a place for rehabilitation of players rather than a finishing school for up and coming cricketers.

DW– It is true. I have to say that they were terrific two years of my life to be involved in something new for me. It was a destination where not too many contracted players were coming along, because from what I gather, they didn’t think they were receiving too much information when they did come to it. But, what we did in that short period of time were two things effectively. One was to bring in some very good support staff in Paul Close, he was for Physiotherapy, and Paul Chapman who was a very good fitness advisor. Yes, you may say this was a case where players came in for rehabilitation but they also came for getting fitter, because they saw a real value in these two guys in assisting and guiding some big name players in India to become better. The other major thing that we did when I was there to actually finish and have something tangible, something you can hold in your hand – that was a coaching manual. I have looked at all the coaching manuals in the world. But I can tell you that the document that we came up with and presented to the BCCI was the best in the world. There is no question about it. That took quite a while, with the help of a guy called Doug Eckley, who had a terrific concept in the way it was presented in this manual. So, there were a number of other initiatives that we did as well as we can in the existing forms of what happened in the 12 month period at the NCA, working with the junior teams, working with states teams, it was all very good. Those were the two major things on my mind.

SJ– Finally, you were close to getting the head coach job of India in 2007. Now that you have moved on from Pakistan, if an opening were available in India, would you be interested in doing that job?

DW– To be very honest with you, you say that but on on reflection – I don’t think I was (in the run). A lot of the media was writing it that way. Despite my experience in the subcontinent, I still didn’t quite understand at that time. it was a result of a number of sections in the media who were making some really nice comments – it was nice to read, nice to hear – but it really didn’t come come from the right people. I think I was wrong in assuming, and I think I have learnt a bit from the experience. As for the question, I am having a decent break from international cricket coaching, from a particular team. No doubt that in a short period of time now…in fact, I am trying to plan my future now together with a company called Arena Sports based in Dubai. I have joined hands with them in terms of trying to organize my future outside of a international cricket team. But, who knows? Anything can happen in the future, and I am open to offers.

SJ– Alright! Thanks a lot for bring on the show, Coach! And, I wish you all the best!

DW– Thank you, Subash! Good luck!


Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman