Two summers will soon have passed. And Dav Whatmore will still be at the helm.
And despite crashing losses, humiliating setbacks and unconvincing statistics
that do not point to remarkable improvements - it is business as usual. Yet
again Bangladesh tunes up for another away tour with renewed resolve. It?s
this resolve that has been the hallmark of Dav?s ?Team Bangladesh?
and a true testimony of the psychological impact of his presence. For now, Dav
is still the raft.
The coach and the captain
Perhaps the most significant, if somewhat underrated, blessing of Dav's term
has been the fluid chemistry between our captains and coach (and I include both
Sujon and Habibul). Both these men have amply demonstrated that open communication
between a coach and a captain in this team has been calibrated sufficiently
to be nearing harmony. It is a harmony that any other camp would envy as communication
between any new coach and a team cannot be taken for granted. Dav had on numerous
occasions as Sri Lanka coach struggled with this aspect. But up to this point
in his current tenure, he has passed his first challenge of relaying his message
to the team. So it is heartening to hear Bashar, almost echoing Ranatunga, saying
that Dav had revolutionized the team?s mentality.
This revolution continues, as his well-heeded proclamation of step-by-step
improvements remains the bedrock of the team. But it is a pity that the media
fleetingly dwells on his coaching strategy. With its changing nuances and detail,
a closer look at the quiet revolution under Whatmore reveals a series of phases,
oscillating between radical change and safe choices. Admittedly, the man who
built up the strategy for the Sri Lanka 1996 World Cup victory has spoken sparingly
about strategy, even though it was a distinctive strategy that led to that win.
For a team like Bangladesh, more than strategy, it was the momentum leading
to the win that should be a source of inspiration. Is Bangladesh on track to
emulate and sustain such a momentum? In subtle ways, yes, that momentum has
successfully survived the flight from Sri Lanka. Certainly the dream and hunger
for winning is alive but the priorities of Bangladesh remain different. Many
have forgotten that the Sri Lankan team could not keep up the momentum that
was achieved up to the World cup victory - partly due to stagnation. For such
a reason it would be far more prudent and healthier for Bangladesh if Dav can
maintain a ?momentum of improvement? rather than a glossy one time
win at a major event.
Stagnation or the lack of momentum happens to every team, be it the Lankans
or the post 70?s West Indies, both of whom struggled with aging teams
that faltered to induct new players. Even if Sri Lanka could boast quality seniors
like Gurusinha, De Silva and Ranatunga, they still represented a block. A block,
one could argue by virtue of their overwhelming presence, stifled the introduction
of new talent at the right time. So are Bangladesh grafting new players into
the team at the right time? The answer must be a satisfactory ?yes?,
as it is reassuring to see that despite the cries of too many rookies, we are
on course to figure out a rudimentary and flexible plan to avoid traps that
have plagued other teams. Unfortunately, as the U-19 players are being exposed
at every opportunity, it is a constant headache for Dav that many of the senior
players do not offer the leeway or batting dependence that Dav relied on in
Sri Lanka. That is why so many of Dav?s experiments (especially in the
ODI) have been perceived as risks.
A fertile ground for many of Dav?s experiments has been the dismal batting
order in our ODI team. For example, experiment number one was shifting Ashraful
up in the batting order. Along with experiment number two, that of Rafique opening,
many may see these as failed experiments, but in the case of Ashraful it remains
a move that could still be vindicated. For this to work, Dav would still like
to see Ashraful ?consistently? playing well in that batting order.
But impatience and pressure for results from all corners have filtered in making
the transformation of Ashraful from his current state to a class act a pressing
Ominously, the fact that these experiments have all been executed in our recent
matches point to further evidence that Dav has not abandoned some of his pre-Bangladesh
days. So the lure of emulating the Jayasurya phenomenon continues and despite
setbacks against India and New Zealand, the relative efficacy of the top order
blast in the recent match against Zimbabwe may have added fuel to his persistence.
Will he gamble in the next series? Most probably so but with the team dynamics
in such a flux it surely will backfire in England. So what forms will that original
idea evolve into?
An idea is coming, as I believe Dav will soon introduce a Bangladesh specific
ODI strategy. And this is a consequence of the positives we can extract from:
the continuing sharpness of bowlers such as Masri; the refinement of Tapash?s
bowling and the promise of new man Rajib. Nevertheless, to succeed they have
to regularly restrict good sides to around 250 and with the blessing of a good
day when Masri and Tapash fires on all cylinders-then we may inflict batting
collapses. Even more, the struggle to cross the 200 mark has been made easier
as some of our middle order and lower order batsmen, such as Pilot and Masri,
have contributed significant knocks coming in late in the day. If they can hold
on for 50 over in an ODI, then we will see either Rafique or Rajin being directed
to tackle the first fifteen overs in a more aggressive posture.
If a radical strategy is one pillar of his doctrine then gaining positives
out of each and every match remains another of Dav?s mantras. To do that,
he has always placed a particular value on 100 percent fitness and its indirect
correlation to mental fitness. ?Fitness is next to godliness? could
very well be another Dav mantra and is also a strikingly similar chord from
his Sri Lanka coaching days. In practical terms the symbiotic relationship between
coach and fitness trainer, best shown by the channel between Mciness and Dav,
has worked well to foster fit players (trained with those fitness programmes
that were set up at BKSP). That is why the period of Mciness-Whatmore has been
a close twin of the Kontouri-Whatmore regime (Kontouri, who was the fitness
trainer during the Whatmore era in Sri Lanka) that had sown the seeds of a confident
Sri Lanka earlier.
So as we follow the news of Dav?s contract, I cannot fail to rehash news
from years ago of the unceremonious dumping of Dave from Sri Lanka. And as Sri
Lanka Cricket reels from one political episode to another, it is mildly comforting
to see a modicum of stability in our camp. Despite dire predictions of mismanagement
ruining our cricket and the spectre of politics (especially of the Ranatunga
kind), it has not happened in a big way. Tumultuous occasions such as the Bashar-Rafique
incidence, the Sujon exit, and recently the departure of Mciness have been dealt
with reasonably, and dare I say, professional manner. So as we praise Dav, perhaps
it is also timely now to acknowledge that BCB have done a fair job in handling
the coach. Business as usual ? keep up with this attitude Team Bangladesh!