Very difficult for two strong-headed leaders to work together: Whatmore


Kerala has never been among the top teams in domestic cricket. However, a lot of it has seemed to change since the coming of Dav Whatmore at the helm of affairs.The team that was struggling to secure outright wins in the previous season of the Ranji Trophy, has already collected three from four games so far this season and remain the only threat to Gujarat and Saurashtra in Group B.

We catch up with Whatmore as opens up about his career as a coach, Kerala cricket and more in an exclusive interview.


You've had a history of coaching minnows, especially at the international level. Is it a challenge you choose to take on intentionally or has it just come your way?

It has come my way, more or less. Opportunities come up, we have no control over them. It's more or less the opportunity that comes up, I don't look for it. It seems to be courting me, but I'm not unhappy about it.


While there can be no pre-set manual to coaching, are there few common factors that you look for in each of your coaching assignments?


Yes, there are certain things for sure. Positive environment; everybody has to be positive. You need to be prepared as well as you can. That's one of the biggest reasons why we have done well because of our preparation before Game 1. I just wanted us to be as prepared as possible within the means of whatever is available, to be able to hit the ground running. That's what I wanted. There are six (group) games only. Unless you start well, it is very difficult to get back into the competition that is only six games. With the help of KCA... I have to be very honest, they have been very supportive and helped our training schedule and I've felt our preparation has been as good as all my career.


Kerala played well last season as well, but there were too many draws. This time around, they have won three out of their first four games. What's the change that you've brought about?

I don't want to look back at the past. Not that I'm not interested, but it's gone now. My attitude is any game you enter, you have to win it. You are not there to draw. Unless you can't win it, then as a last resort, you play for a draw. It's just a given. We don't even talk about it now. All our plans are made with that in mind; nothing else but to win the match.


How difficult is it to coach a team that hasn't made winning a habit. How much of that is mental change that is required and how much of a technical change that you are looking at?
A lot of these guys - senior first-class cricketers - have a decent idea of the technique. What I see is that the ones who have got exceptional talent, it is harder for them to understand their game. They have all the shots. But the other players, who are not quite gifted but just as good in their output, but limited in certain areas, it is easier for them to understand their game. So as you go along, you give these little bits of information to whichever player you're dealing with. It's never a case of losing, it's about doing well as an individual that will help the team. A little piece of information every now and then during the game, a nice thought during a review... every day we sit and review and plan, doesn't take long. We sit together and discuss what happened today and what we need to do tomorrow. So they sleep over that and if they have got a problem, they can just come and ask, rather than coming on the morning of the game. These are just things I make sure are done.



At junior level, there is always a debate as to what is more important - winning championships or developing player skills. What do you make of this?


You win matches by performances, don't you? You take skill and good performances to win a game. So obviously, yes, you want these youth players to understand more and more. But you also have to win.


So would you look at trying out players in fixed positions and combinations or would you look to give them a go at different situations?
The conditions dictate the combination. So it doesn't necessarily follow that process. Just because you want to develop a particular player and if he's not suited to those conditions, then why pick him? So, yes, it is very important that the younger players understand their game a bit better and have to apply it in conditions that change in four-day matches, understand how conditions can change in one-day matches too. So it is important that they become better at all those things.


What are the challenges you have assessed for Kerala as a team?
It is more or less about changing the mentality of being a Plate team. Although it's not applicable this season because it's all mixed in, but essentially the team has been participating in Plate division for a while, have had the odd promotion. But essentially, you can't start thinking in that way. When I saw the players who were on the list, I was a little bit confused why this was the case, because they are good players. And my challenge was to get the best out of them on a consistent basis.

There is potential everywhere. Every state will say, we've got potential, and everyone's right. India has got such a huge population base. Sure there's more people in Delhi and Bombay than in Kerala, and our domestic competition isn't all that great in the longer version of the game. They have played most of their cricket in shorter format. But there's huge potential there. The difference between people with potential and those who make it, is in the head. Nothing else. I shouldn't say it matters not, it does matters that there is greater pool of players in other states than in Kerala, but if you've got it in the head, you can be as good as any state if you're smart enough. Hardware is there in most players, software is what they need. The quicker they do that, the better they will be. Cricket is played in the head. Training is more physiological. Match competition is more of a mental challenge, especially in challenging times.


How do you create synergy in a team with different leaders. There's Sanju Samson, Rohan Prem, (Sachin) Baby who were captains at different times. Also, you had two senior players coming from outside - Arun Karthik and Jalaj Saxena.

Both (Arun Karthik and Jalaj Saxena) are very good professional players. It's not too difficult when you have two players like they are, who one are very good team players and two are willing to better themselves for the team. It's so much easier. All my discussion that I've had with both of them have been about how can we improve the performance of the team, and that is in review situation or even during the game. And for all the others, the Keralities, it's easy to see this and feel this, which makes it so much easier to bond better because they have a really good feeling of wanting the team to do well, as is the case with the other captains (Sanju Samson and Sachin Baby). So there is a very warm, fuzzy feeling, supportive and happy.


Players say 'you keep the environment positive'?

That's true. What's the point (being negative)? There was a time on Day 1, first time, where I was harder than I wanted to be; a little harder, I can be a lot more. But there are times you need to do that. The boys have fought hard and deserve the credit, but it's not about me or the other coaches, although they may see it as that at that time. But it is to get them fired up, get them improving so that they get the accolades. It's for them, I don't want anything. Players make the coach, but a coach also has to be a few different types of people on different occasions. Unless they allow me to do that, it's not going to work.


How do you ensure that the positive environment is retained in pressure situations?

Put confidence. Mistakes are repeated, but you still got to bite your lips and offer solutions. I try to be as much as I can, a solution-based coach. Any fool can shout at a player and say 'why did you do this? Why did you do that?' What's the solution? Give him a solution. May not be the right solution, but you got to give a solution. Try this, try that. I try and offer something that a player can improve on. And in competition, a lot of it is mental. The ability to stay in the moment, rather than get carried away and get all these negative thoughts that clogs up your mind and makes it from making simple decisions. For a ball, a batsman reacts. But if you get clogged up, it becomes difficult to make a correct decisions. And there are tools that you apply to these times which assist greatly to keep a clear head and to make a correct decision.


As a coach, how different has the role been in the pre and post computer days?

Hugely. I'm not entirely computer literate, but that is one area which is evolving very fast. We need to embrace it and learn from it a bit more.


Players enter something called as the 'zone'. Is there something on similar lines for coaches as well?
Yep, I'm a little too emotional sometimes. I lose my temper quick, but I come back down as quick as well. I try not to do that in front of the reserves, but they hear me. They know when I'm angry. I've to keep reminding myself, it's not my game, it's their game. They have to play it out. Sometimes it is hard for me to understand that. I understand that, but it's hard to implement it sometimes, in certain stressful situations.


You play the good cop bad cop all by yourself?

Yeah, I'm both. I would love to be a good cop, but I play the bad cop as well; throw around a few lines. Hopefully, the reserves don't pass it on.


Can two strong headed leaders - like a captain and a coach - get along well? India failed to have successful relationships when two legendary cricketers - Greg Chappell and Anil Kumble were at the helm.


Very difficult. Like poles repel. Opposite poles attract.


You were there with Arjuna Ranatunga and it didn't quite go well either.

It was okay, I tell you. He just wanted more credit of the World Cup win, I didn't want any. I never said it was mine. Never. Some of the journos said. But we had a good relationship for most parts. It was terrific. It was just one of the little things that happened at the end of the World Cup that... I don't want to comment on that. It's his thing, whatever he wants to think. Ya, like poles repel. It can work, but you got to be a smart enough manager. You have to be really smart.


Was that your most satisfying stint as a coach?

No. That was my first assignment as a coach.


Was there a cultural change that you found tough then?


Yeah, a little bit. But I haven't changed all that much. I'm organised, I care and all those things.



So what do you see as the most satisfying stint?


There were others since then. Different series'. There was qualifying for the Super 8s with Bangladesh. When they won their first Test series. Although it was Zimbabwe, the way it happened was quite good. It was a learning curve for that team.

Also with Sri Lanka when they won nine Test matches in a row in 2000s. Working with match winners like Murali and Sanath was a great experience. All these good memories, fond memories.

Lancashire. They had their best season in their history of their existence. Not according to me, according to their 50,000-odd members. We won the NatWest, the Sunday League, we were the quarterfinalists in Benson & Hedges. We came a whisker from winning the big one, the championship. Great year. First year I didn't know what I was doing. In the second year, made a change or two and wow! So that was very satisfying.


The after-effects of your stints with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka seemed pretty fruitful, but that hasn't been the case with Zimbabwe.

They will be there in a bit. That is a whole new kettle of fish. I don't want to get into that, but it's different, in a class of its own. I don't want to get into it, although the World Cup was pretty good with Brendan Taylor. We came really close; we were challenging every team. Even India. Had Hamilton taken that catch of Suresh Raina, gosh! Anyway, that's history. But we were very close, extremely competitive. Then we lost Taylor. It was horrible, it left a huge hole. But I think I was the only one who cared.... (Awkward silence) It's a different kettle of fish.


You've been to so many countries. How have you managed to keep the communication up with the players?


By communication do you mean the language?


Any form of communication that helps understand the cultures of the different countries you've worked in.

Cricket communication is the same all over the world and that is the number one communication. There are certain standards that are expected. Also, they can also feel my beauty of care, my beauty of organisation. I need to be organised. It is very difficult for me to run a session unless I put it on paper. So things are planned. I write a report to each player after each match. So that's how I communicate. Sometimes when you don't do that, you can forget to mention that. Certain things have happened despite your best intentions. By committing to paper, you don't miss that. It takes time, but the rewards are great. There is a feeling that there is a relationship between a coach and a player. May or may not be the case in the past, but that's how I operate.


How much of cricket has been sucked into your personality or is it the other way around?


Cricket is a sport, but you're working with people. You got to get on with them, you got to manage them. It's me that is brought to the game, not the other way around.


You've travelled to a lot of countries and worked there? Is home-sickness not an issue?

I miss a little bit, but not really. I miss my mom. I get to see my kids and my wife; they travel (with me). My mom's a bit older now and I haven't seen her since last Christmas. It's been almost a year and I won't be seeing her till January, that too hopefully if I can find a week.


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