x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Pakistan cricket need a lot more than Dav Whatmore

Coach not the firebrand he used to be and Saeed Ajmal's remarks reaffirm belief he may have been the wrong choice as coach.

Comments by Saeed Ajmal, right, about Dav Whatmore, left, have drawn great scrutiny to the work of Pakistan’s cricket coach and his future once the Australian’s two-tear tenure comes to an end. Gemunu Amarasinghe / AP Photo
Comments by Saeed Ajmal, right, about Dav Whatmore, left, have drawn great scrutiny to the work of Pakistan’s cricket coach and his future once the Australian’s two-tear tenure comes to an end. Gemunu Amarasinghe / AP Photo

In 2007, a number of Pakistan’s senior players rejected Dav Whatmore as the man to replace the late Bob Woolmer, because they felt he was too fiery and too much of a taskmaster for them.

Whatmore’s appointment had been torpedoed by the machinations of both Arjuna Ranatunga, the former Sri Lanka captain with whom Whatmore won the World Cup, and Javed Miandad, but the players’ input was vital.

It was worth remembering that last week, after Saeed Ajmal, in that cherubic way of his, provided a blunt assessment of Whatmore’s impact as coach since his eventual appointment in 2012.

Though not as scathing as the headlines had it, Ajmal’s words captured a thread of the mood surrounding Whatmore’s tenure.

Asked about the impact of foreign coaches, with Whatmore as an example, Ajmal said the only difference between them and local coaches was that foreigners were paid more.

But by heaping unprompted fulsome praise on both Waqar Younis and Mohsin Khan – Whatmore’s predecessors and locals – Ajmal was actually doubly revealing.

He later acknowledged Whatmore’s coaching and after the headlines, personally made his peace with the coach.

Ajmal’s opinions, though, put together with indifferent results and that Whatmore is now nearing the end of his two-year deal, have drawn greater scrutiny to his work. If administration noises that Whatmore’s contract will not be extended are reliable – and Whatmore might not want to stay on, anyway – it leaves us with what has been, so far, a curiously dampened excursion both for Pakistan and Whatmore.

On paper, when he first signed up, you thought, Pakistan and Whatmore? This could need parental guidance.

Whatmore at his peak was a fierce beast, a man who coached sides almost as political causes.

He gave them verbal lashings, made them sweat, he upset them, and at the end of the day, he defended them with his life.

He lived every ball, wicket, run and catch and visibly energised teams through his own edginess. It was not cosy and it worked.

Remember when the odious Ross Emerson no-balled Muttiah Muralitharan seven times for throwing in Brisbane?

Whatmore stomped out looking like he might kill someone, with a video camera, stalked around the boundary to wide mid-on and began filming Murali’s action.

He knew Murali was going to be called and was making sure he was armed when the fighting began. This, by the way, was as the coach of the country where he was born, in the country which became his home. As much as Ranatunga on the field, Whatmore off it was not a man who stood down in confrontation, the similarities explaining why the pair did not get on.

Yet, surprisingly, with Pakistan, that incendiary trait has not been seen too often. He still cares about his work – that much is obvious from noting the pain and torture evident on a naturally angry visage as he watches games.

Imran Farhat, who was on the end of a televised eruption on the sidelines of an ODI last year, has probably glimpsed the Whatmore that players were afraid to embrace as coach six years ago.

But a basic spark has been missing, like someone forgot to switch Whatmore – or Pakistan, for that matter – on.

It could be that there just is not enough friction for Whatmore to feed off; rubbing up against ice would produce more heat than doing so against Misbah-ul-Haq.

Language, as Ajmal said, could be a problem, but it is rarely a fatal one.

The greater issue is likely that Pakistani players take longer to respond to specialist coaches, as opposed to big-name players-turned-coaches.

That is a problem Woolmer used to speak of often, that it took time and a galaxy of patience for his technical messages to break through.

According to the former PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan, Richard Pybus also struggled with this. In that light, a two-year stint, with a Test schedule as sparse as Pakistan’s, is no period to build anything.

After two years, for example, India’s coach Duncan Fletcher was only just emerging from the depths of a miserable transition.

During that time, he was said to have been past it. Now, with a whitewash of Australia, a Champions Trophy triumph and a fresh batch of attacking batsmen, not even the inherent stigma of being an N Srinivasan appointee can hurt him.

Pakistan also do not do traditional transitions. They are always in transition and also never in actual transition, so to deal with that kind of destructive stagnancy is complicated.

It requires time and space, and with Misbah becoming, as word has it, increasingly powerful, that space seems to have receded.

Or maybe Whatmore had been out of international cricket for too long. It had been just under five years, in fact, since his leaving Bangladesh and joining Pakistan, and if that does not sound like an age, consider how much change the game has actually undergone in that time.

Has it worked? Two series wins this winter could change everything.

But if Whatmore and Pakistan once sounded like an exciting idea, it currently feels like an idea whose time had already gone by the time it came to be.