x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

All about timing for Pakistan cricket coach Dav Whatmore

The Australian tells Osman Samiuddin he is better off to get the job this year as opposed to 2007 when he applied earlier too.

Dav Whatmore, right, the Pakistan cricket coach, has admiration for the way Misbah-ul-Haq, second right, thinks about the game.
Dav Whatmore, right, the Pakistan cricket coach, has admiration for the way Misbah-ul-Haq, second right, thinks about the game.

Not for Dav Whatmore is the easy assignment. In March, he took over as head coach of Pakistan, completing a set of sorts: he has now coached three of the subcontinent's four countries and he has worked in various coaching capacities in India.

Arguably Pakistan represents the toughest challenge, a notoriously insecure post but with an opportunity to work with players with rare gifts. Two months into the job, he spoke to The National about why he decided to take it up, his plans for the side and how difficult coaching in the subcontinent can be.

 

What attracted you to the Pakistan job? It's not the most secure job and the side have gone through tough times in recent years.

There's only 10 full member countries playing, isn't there? It's still an honour to be working at this level. The team, it hasn't had the best publicity over the last year or so, but the players within it still represent a challenge to get a bit of consistency, so it was a combination of these things, [and] get back into international cricket. At Kolkata Knight Riders I was doing something that kept me involved only three to four months of the year. This was right from the beginning.

 

Did you have any second thoughts?

Not really, but I would've preferred to have signed earlier. I was confident enough in my own ability when compared to previous foreign coaches.

 

You were in the running in 2007, as well, but not appointed.

That was a chapter that was past really. I came for interviews along with [Geoff] Lawson, and it was disappointing not to get it but in the fullness of time, in the big picture, I think I was saved. I was looked after by a higher being. I always believe things happen for reasons and I am where I am meant to be right now.

 

How has the experience been so far?

Very good. It has been nothing but positive. It's a familiar experience, not all that different over the years to the different countries I have lived in. It's a very interesting chapter in my life.

 

How familiar were you with the players?

Certainly the older ones. Misbah-ul-Haq as captain has been in the opposition a little bit when I've been coach elsewhere. Younis Khan, a little bit of Umar Gul, Shahid Afridi for sure … I was in the opposite camp when he scored that hundred in 1996 in Kenya. I know a few of them and they certainly know of me and others knew of me. It really didn't take long to develop a relationship, at least at the beginning, a healthy one.

 

What are you looking at as a priority? The batting, especially the chasing, is an old problem, as is the fielding.

I think you've got to suck it and see a little bit up to a point. Everyone tells me the potential is there and I agree. Good judges can see certain players within the team being able to be really consistent and pull this team along. Yes, you're right when you say there's been instances when the fielding's been not so good and that's caused the difference between winning and losing.

Sometimes the ability to chase scores has not been so good. Spin bowling at the moment is quite strong. Pace bowling has some pace but we can get better in our length and direction. It's a combination of these things and that's the challenge, to ensure that we develop and breed a group of young men that is quite strong in their thinking and their skill.

 

Misbah's influence on the Test side has been quite profound over the past 18 months. What have you made of him?

He's a big thinker. Very solid personality, he doesn't go to extremes. He's very stable in his outlook. He doesn't get carried away too much when you lose or win. That is a very good thing, to be stable in your emotions. Being a good thinker, that really helps from a leadership point of view. In fairness, he may think a number of things quite strongly about certain players but it's not communicated. The communication is always positive and that is a very good thing.

 

Pakistan have a solid Test side but an inconsistent one in limited overs. What is your view on the separate team for formats?

A number of issues. I agree that the Test team is quite settled. In the shorter formats, where do I stand? Well … you're always looking to improve. I always believe there are certain players suited more naturally to certain forms of the game. If that's the case, then I support playing those people where they are more suited to. I was part of the KKR that built that team that you see now.

Unfortunately, they haven't won too many but I was part of the strategy that went to auction and worked out in great detail the formation of the team that would give me success and we had a fair bit of it last year. We were one over away from finishing second. So I understand that there are proven ways of thinking in terms of formations that will give you the best chance of success. Not guaranteed success, but certainly proven ways of thinking and formulating an XI that would give you the best possible chances of winning and winning conclusively. That comes with certain players; certain players are more suited to that role.

 

Should Misbah be in the limited overs sides?

You can build a team very much with him as a leader and you can build a team also with him as not leader. That decision will remain with the selectors. But if we decide to dig a little bit deeper and have a look at his performances, it doesn't stack up too badly. But at the end of the day, and moving forward, Iqbal Qasim and the selectors will certainly need to deeply discuss all sorts of angles before making a final discussion.

 

Selection in Pakistan has been an issue between coach and captain. Have clear guidelines been laid out to you?

I was involved in selection for the Asia Cup. I hadn't got a vote but it was good to discuss before the team was picked. We had a review after the Asia Cup in Rawalpindi and I remain on very good terms with the selectors, here in Lahore, the chairman, Salim Jaffer, the selector from Peshawar.

 

What did you make of what you saw at the Super 8s T20 in Rawalpindi recently?

It's good, interesting to see. The fielding standards went up as we went along further into the tournament. I remember saying: "Gee, I think this is getting better." That was one good thing. It would've been nice if we had the use of the white Kookaburra but it wasn't to be, They use the white Grey's which behaves a little differently. Certainly, there were some standouts in that competition and those standouts may likely look forward to higher selection.

 

Pakistan have very little Test cricket scheduled this year. Is that a little disappointing given this is a Test side that's got some momentum?

Maybe, maybe. I've come in from outside and these things have been set aside before. Would've been nice to play more but that's the way it is. We have a very important Test series in Sri Lanka and they are not easy to beat even though they've lost their 800-wicket-taker. We need to be very mindful of the personnel that goes to their country and fights for every Test victory. It won't be easy but we'll be really up for it.

 

Have you set yourself any targets?

Not really, but I really do want to be consistent. I'm about winning. I don't want to be involved with teams that are not having good times. I really need to enjoy what I am doing, work hard and enjoy the performances of the boys. They work their bums off to get wickets and runs, catches, and that gives me a real big boost and then the result comes that you want and that's what I want.

 

A player like Umar Akmal, who is so gifted but hasn't kicked on: not him specifically, but as a general problem, how do you deal with that as a coach?

I sympathise with him a bit because I was exactly the same. The difficulty with people like Umar is that it is harder for them to understand the game because they have all the shots, compared to others who are restricted and know what they can and can't do. It's easy for those boys to understand the game.

Blokes like Umar and players like him have the hardware. One thing you need to do is increase the ability of the software to really be able to play one ball at a time knowing you can play every shot in the book. That's a difficulty. He'll need to be carefully guided and given confidence because people like him are match-winners and if they can turn around and get some consistency, it makes a huge difference.

 

Do players from the subcontinent respond to a coach differently than players from Australia and England, for example?

I don't think there's a lot of difference. I've worked with some of the biggest names at KKR and a lot of it is just management, the ability to prescribe the right amount of workload at the right time. Technically, you're not going to get too involved. I mean Jacques Kallis is over 10,000 runs, nearly 300 Test wickets, so very difficult to get involved, technically.

But, certainly, in the management of his heavy schedule he really appreciates the way we've handled him. The younger players will need more encouragement and confidence, in terms of techniques, the confidence to go out there and do it. But there's not too much difference.

 

Have you found nationality to be an issue in the subcontinent?

It's getting the best coach for that particular job. In terms of foreigners coming into the subcontinent, there's been examples of good coaches not knowing the environment they work in. That hasn't resulted in the best … it could've gone better. I think it really does matter when foreigners come in that they have a clear understanding of the environment in which they are working, the players, administrators, selectors, people in general, the media, and it's not easy at all.

 

osamiuddin@thenational.ae