© Getty Images

At 63, Whatmore is among the most experienced coaches in the circuit, and has kept himself relevant by adapting to the changing demands of the game. © Getty Images

Dav Whatmore has been a coach for so long that cricket’s evolution over the last three decades can be tracked through his career trajectory.

After steering Sri Lanka to the 1996 World Cup and Lancashire to three trophies in the English domestic circuit, Whatmore coached Bangladesh, Pakistan and Zimbabwe, as well as Kolkata Knight Riders. In between, there was the directorship at the National Cricket Academy in India, and he also helped Virat Kohli’s team win the 2008 Under-19 World Cup.

At 63, Whatmore is among the most experienced coaches in the circuit, and has kept himself relevant by adapting to changing demands. Sacked by Zimbabwe in May last year, he is back again in a dual role that offers different challenges. The Whatmore Centre of Cricket has tied up with Sri Ramachandra University’s Arthroscopy and Sports Science Centre in Chennai for three years and he, in an individual capacity, has also signed a six-month deal with the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) starting September this year.

Family life of a travelling coach
“We are used to that. I have married for 36 years. We have found a way to work for 36 years. Lots of partnerships don’t work with so much time away, but we have had two lovely kids who have grown up, they are terrific people. Our relationship has never been stronger. It’s been 36 years. We have managed the situation very well.”

While he will groom youngsters in Chennai, the role with KCA is more result-oriented. He will be responsible for the senior team in the domestic tournaments in 2017-18, and will also work with the coaches of the age-group sides.

“Basically, when I agreed to come to Chennai to do some development work with the university, the opportunity (to coach Kerala) arose, it being very close to Tamil Nadu,” said Whatmore to Wisden India over telephone from Chennai, where he has already set up shop. “S Ramesh, the KCA’s game development manager, suggested this six-month offer. It sounded wonderful. That conversation resulted in this.

“In Chennai, with the university, I am keen to open the doors for many young Indian boys and girls to get an experience of a world-class facility. It has gone unnoticed for many years, but now is the time for the country to understand that it is a great destination to come and learn cricket, and also a very good place for sports medicine and science. It’s a new initiative, it’s a start-up but there is every indication that this is going to be very big as we go along.”

Having gone through a rough ride in recent times, Kerala would want to tap into the former Australian batsman’s experience and expertise. Chandrakant Pandit, Sairaj Bahutule and Sujith Somasundar were hired from outside the state at different times but none of them stayed on for varied reasons. Last season, Kerala sacked P Balachandran as coach early in the season and replaced him with Tinu Yohannan, the former India seamer who was more keen on a development-focussed role.

Whatmore, known for building teams from scratch, said his realistic aim was to get Kerala to play in the knockouts of the domestic tournaments.

Kerala have languished in Group C in the Ranji Trophy since the start of the three-tier system in 2012-13, and have not qualified for the knockouts of the Vijay Hazare Trophy inter-state 50-over tournament since that same season.

Guiding Sri Lanka to the 1996 World Cup title remains the highlight of Whatmore’s coaching career. © AFP

“I had a very long conversation with the chairman of selectors and the secretary, and I feel I almost know the team very well after that. They will be here (in Chennai) of course. We all know the weather pattern in Kerala is not very helpful in the pre-season,” he added. “So, a fair amount of pre-season work will happen in the university where I am. It will help me kick-start with respect to identifying better talents, honing them and ensuring that we have the best possible squad before the start of the first game.

“I have always followed domestic cricket, first-class cricket around the world. I may not have followed the teams every day, but I have followed them from time to time. I understand Kerala are in Group C and are trying to get into the elite group. There are also the one-day and zonal competitions, which are of pretty high standards. We want to play as much cricket as we can, and that means we are playing in the knockouts. The aim is to obviously do as well as we can. The quality of the team suggests that it is definitely a possibility. That’s the challenge we all have now, next season.”

On changing jobs too frequently
“I have heard this. I am not sure it’s correct. It happened because I was with NCA. It’s easy for people to say he is leaving. I don’t do that. I do that only when there are reasons to do so. I don’t leave the job half-done. I do that because there are very good reasons, not that I want to go into that, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time. You ask anybody who was there at the NCA during those two-and-a-half years, it was a really, really good, productive time. When you leave a place like that, which is very productive, there are good reasons. Then I went to Knight Riders for two years. That may be appropriate. I had a three-year term and I left after two. If that’s leaving early then I am guilty, but I went back to international cricket because I really felt I could make a difference with Pakistan. That’s left up to people to decide, and it may have been a wrong career move. I am not sure. I don’t leave a place intentionally.”

Talent has never been an issue in Kerala. Yohannan, S Sreesanth and Sanju Samson have played for India, while the likes of Raiphi Gomez, Sachin Baby, Sandeep Warrier, P Prashant, Prashant Padmanabhan, Basil Thampi and Vishnu Vinod, among others, have interested Indian Premier League franchises over the years. The problem has been their inability to come together as a team and deliver the goods.

“The boys have done good in IPL. They are all good players, but cricket is not an individual game,” Whatmore pointed out. “Individuals have to perform within the team dynamics for it to count. Teamwork is crucial. Individuals have to perform within the team framework and team rules.”

Those who have followed Indian domestic cricket know the kind of negativity that has prevailed in the Kerala dressing room. Nothing epitomised it more than the way the Samson issue was handled after he walked out during a Ranji game last season.

“I know him from when he was 16 years old,” said Whatmore of Samson. “He was a rookie at Knight Riders, and I have worked with him at the NCA with the Under-19 batch as well. I may not have kept track of him for a couple of years, but I know enough of Sanju to suggest that with the ability he has got, he should be aiming to play for the country.”

Whatmore is not the first foreign coach to be associated with a state team in India. Punjab made it to the 2004-05 Ranji final under Intikhab Alam. Michael Bevan had a brief stint with Odisha. Darren Holder, Shaun Williams, Dermot Reeve and David Andrews have had varying level of success with Maharashtra, and Nuwan Zoysa was associated with Goa. But no one arguably understands cricketers of this region better than the Colombo-born Whatmore.

“I am very comfortable with boys from this part of the world. That’s one good thing because you are comfortable. Secondly, there is a lot of experience in my head. There is a lot of things I can say that every other coach says. What matters is how I can make a difference,” offered Whatmore. “I have a lot of experience in terms of coaching full-member teams, and the challenges of coaching a senior team of a state association are different. My aim would be to help youngsters improve as players.”

If he can do that, Kerala will be thrilled to have brought him on board.