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The Wisden Wednesday Interview
Whatmore: 'I still don't mind losing'
November 5, 2003
In the second of our weekly interviews, Andrew Miller talks to Bangladesh's Australian coach Dav Whatmore about the challenging yet rewarding task of turning Bangladesh into a competitive Test nation:
Dav Whatmore with Khaled Mahmud and Mushfiqur Rahman
© Getty Imgaes
How does the team differ now to the one you took over?
From the group of players that played in the World Cup and then against India and South Africa, I reckon about half the team has now changed. Since I joined, we've now not got the likes of Al-Sahariar, Sanwar Hossain and Mohammad Ashraful, for a variety of different reasons.
Is this evidence of your new regime?
Partly. I'm still part of a selection committee – but in my opinion, if I'm to make a difference, I need to be given a bit more rope to hang myself. I would like to be judged fairly at the end of a two-year period, or however long it turns out to be. I'd like people to have more faith in me, and in what I believe we need in terms of players, facilities, and a whole range of other things to get this team up and running.
What were your first impressions of the players?
The skill level's there. That will always be the case in any part of the subcontinent. Of course, not everyone's got the same level of talent – that goes for any team. But it's not the skills that are holding them back. It's other attributes, such as fitness, nutrition and general knowledge of the game. But most importantly, it's the tough mental attitude needed to perform under stressful periods. The team hasn't won anything in recent years, so there are more stressful situations for them than there are for other sides. Every hour brings a new crisis – every half-hour – and this is never more clearly demonstrated than by the batting. But it's not the amount of failures that determine a side that's not winning. Tendulkar, Waugh, Lara – they all fail. The difference comes when players of that calibre get a start. If it's their day, they'll go on to make a big one. On the other hand, our starts reflect anything from the high 20s to the early 60s.
As the coach and captain, how are you and Khaled Mahmud gelling?
Our relationship is pretty good. Mahmud has only played a handful of Tests, and he's trying hard to hold his place, so my influence is rather greater. But it is an important area, no question. The captain-coach dynamic is becoming ever more recognised in the eyes of the administration, and because that person off the field affects what goes on on the field, a professional working relationship is essential.
It must be quite a contrast to working with Arjuna Ranatunga?
Now there's a character. You could write a chapter on him, no problem. Arjuna was a very strong personality – it's incorrect to say he was a dictator, although that is the impression that some people get. He was actually a very caring person: he always supported his team and argued their cases at selection meetings. I was very new at the time, so I was prepared to learn a lot from him. Here, I have a bit more control. A lot more control. For that I'm very, very pleased. Only that way can you judge a person fairly on what he's done and what he hasn't done. The whole set-up here is different. Bangladesh are trying so hard to get that first victory. Sri Lanka had already achieved that. Sri Lanka's domestic competitions, from which the national team is selected, had been set in place for a long time, although that's not to say they couldn't be improved. The Bangladeshi version, on the other hand, is pretty new. All in all, it's more of a contrast.
One of the few Bangladeshi batsmen known back in England is Mohammad Ashraful. What message were you sending out by dropping him?
I've spoken to Ashraful a couple of times. He's got so much talent for someone so young, so much so that I think it's harder for him to understand his game. Alok Kapali's the same. When guys like this have so many shots, they will obviously look to play them, and if they play them too early they get out. So you end up with a series of low scores, your confidence leaves you, you get into a rut, and it's harder to understand your game. It's easier when you're older.
That's the batting in a nutshell, but on other fronts you are making progress?
In my mind, the team no longer goes out to bowl in a game hoping that the opposition get enough runs to declare. When you go out to do battle in the field, you've got to be aiming to take ten wickets. Of course there will be some tough times – certain hours and certain sessions that go against you – but that focus is now in place. It's being supported by the fielders. They'll still make mistakes of course, but the intent is there.
Mohammad Rafique: 'A typical spinner'
© Getty Imgaes
All of a sudden, you've got yourselves a handy pair of spinners in Mohammad Rafique and Enamul Haque Junior ...
The potential was always there with Rafique. He's a typical spinner, he loves cricket and he just wants to bowl for hours on end. He thinks about the game a lot, and he's quite mature – I believe he's 34. Those factors have been in his make-up all the time, not just since I've come along. And now they are reflected in his performances, and how much he's enjoying himself. I'm very, very pleased for him, and he will be all the more encouraged by his progress. As his partner, we went for the young fella, Enamul, who's shown potential with his left-armers. But the other parts of his game need to improve dramatically if he's to have a long-term future, and I've told him that. But he's young enough to achieve all those things.
There must be others out there. How do you access the real grass-roots in this country?
That is the biggest problem for all subcontinental countries, not just Bangladesh. There were loads of problems in Sri Lanka, although they are steadily improving. Similarly in Pakistan. As for India, how on earth do you to pick the best 15 from all those zones? But in Bangladesh, the problem lies in the domestic competition, which could be improved so much. At the moment the selectors are very much forced to take a subjective view. And so it is vitally important that the right selectors are in place to identify and isolate the ones who can from the ones who show a bit of form but actually can't. Therein lies the big problem.
To the outsider, it looks like Bangladesh has a handy stable of young fast bowlers, assuming they can stay fit ...
Actually, I'm not quite convinced as to the extent of the potential. I could be wrong. These guys are good honest triers, no question, and I'd certainly like to have another Mashrafe [Mortaza], who has the spirit to get the ball past the bat, and works hard. They all work hard – perhaps they need more opportunities. But the ones who are given the opportunity, it's up to them to grab it. If there are more of them around, then brilliant. I'd like to see them.
How much is the state of Bangladesh pitches to blame? This latest one [at Chittagong] took people by surprise, didn't it?
It had a bit of nip, but it was more the variable bounce that undid our batsmen. They weren't able to trust that the ball would whizz past their noses if it was banged in short. More wickets like that would be actually be beneficial. But what can be done remains to be seen. Even if the board has a policy, it's still down to the local groundsmen to carry it out. And I suspect very much that the wickets in club competitions would favour the spinner who bowls on a length and tries to keep the runs down. What medium-pacers that exist are probably used to take the shine off the ball, and expected to bowl defensively to frustrate the batsman out.
You said recently that you didn't mind about losing. Does that still stand?
Absolutely. It still doesn't matter. Mind you, it would be wrong to suggest I don't care. Of course I care. What I mean is that I don't mind the outcome, so long as collectively everyone is doing their own little bit to create the right picture at the end.
Even so, it's 26 matches and counting. How many more defeats can Bangladesh take?
Whatever it takes. There's no short-term fix. We can't bring back some older guys, some harder nuts, to win one match and then what? To come up with a definitive figure is very difficult. A lot of people are looking at the Zimbabwe series in February, and reckon we can win there. I don't agree. I reckon we can win tomorrow, but that's not the right way to go about it. We have to have a very close look at the people who are picked for that touring squad, and accurately and realistically judge: should they be there, or shouldn't they?
This last game was the first time, under your command, that Bangladesh have been trounced ...
Yeah, that's the old Bangladesh coming out. By the same token, I will say that the previous games have been a terrific upward curve. This one is a downer for sure. But I can also say, in my experience, anyone trying to get anywhere in life, it's never a straight line. This defeat can only be judged in time. To judge it now would be unfair and far too early.
So with the benefit of hindsight – that recent one-wicket defeat at Multan. Was it encouraging or shattering?
Oh, that was awful – I was very upset. We'd built ourselves up to believe we could win, and so when we didn't, that was when it really hurt. I was particularly upset, because we should have won. Even though Inzamam played absolutely magnificently, there was still a chance or two, and unless you take those opportunities, you can't win. In particular there was a missed run-out when Rafique knocked the bails off – he got too excited. That would have been huge, because the team played really well. Despite our batting collapse, they really showed the intent to get out there with the ball.
But to get so close, did it give you the belief that you can do that again?
Yeah, I think so. But I've detected a negativity in the team about playing at home. Instead of being lifted by the energy of the crowd, they seem to fear them. But I think that'll come. Every member of the public is itching for the team to get ahead. It'll be a snowball effect when it finally happens. But they need to overcome that apprehension. If they'd had that now they might have pushed England a little closer after Dhaka.
But on the other hand, playing away in Australia, zero expectations ... and you surpassed them?
Maybe it was my honeymoon period? I dunno, I was reasonably pleased. To get 290 on a greenish wicket at Cairns, and against that attack, was very good effort. The guys were a bit overawed in those two matches, though. To play the world champions is a tough assignment for any team, let alone Bangladesh, who were a bit star-struck by the individual opposition players. But it was a good little tour to kick it all off. Pakistan was better, Dhaka was okay, Chittagong dipped.
Which will be the greater achievement? Your World Cup victory with Sri Lanka or your first Test win with Bangladesh?
They'll be pretty much the same, to be honest. It'll be just like the World Cup, and there are a lot more people here as well ... When we came back from Pakistan, we were all garlanded at the airport, and we hadn't even won anything. Imagine what a win would have been like! Obviously the World Cup was special, from a personal point of view, but there's just as much, probably greater reward, overall over here. This is not an easy job, but I honestly believed I could make a difference, so that's why I'm here. I've got plenty of support from a great support team, and we've just got to keep working for that right formula. It's not just about one win, but really cementing the foundations for something big in the future.