On March 22, 2012, when Pakistan clinched a cliffhanger to win the Asia Cup, Dav Whatmore capped off a good start to his coaching tenure after replacing Mohsin Khan just before the tournament. A year and a few months down the line, the landslide is there for everyone to see and the only two people buried under it are Whatmore and skipper Misbah-ul-Haq. Former players to officials in the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), everyone is gunning for Whatmore’s exit. The tendency to pin the blame on one person is not uncommon for Pakistan going by their previous run-ins with coaches.
Blaming the coach alone is not going to help Pakistan cricket. A broader outlook highlights the low popularity of authoritative figures in Asia. It is difficult to concretely establish the fact, but his involvement along with Misbah in selecting the team is said to have pushed Iqbal Qasim’s resignation from his post of a selector. And Whatmore hasn’t taken the performance too lightly as well.
In an interview after the Champions Trophy debacle, Whatmore said that his focus is on having a highly skilled and fit team. If a player scores well but is slow in the field and vice versa, it turns out to be a handicap for the side. This more or less defines the present Pakistan team. And if you go down memory lane, one can see similarities with India’s turbulent Greg Chappell-Sourav Ganguly era. Perhaps it takes a soft convincing approach to get things done within a team in Asia, which Gary Kirsten may have mastered during his tenure. The South African took over after the Chappell era and learnt the man-management skills best suited to the interests of India. It follows what Inzamam-ul-Haq had to say as he hinted towards Bob Woolmer’s positive influence to Whatmore’s inability to deliver and the need for a local coach. It is important to understand the way cricket is played in the subcontinent and what the adulation turns the players into. To cite one example, Whatmore, coach of Sri Lanka during their successful ICC World Cup 1996 campaign had a bitter relation with Arjuna Ranatunga. This went to the extent that Ranatunga, as consultant to PCB had blocked the idea of having an Australian coach and Whatmore in particular.
Perhaps if there was an Asia XI, Whatmore is the most likely candidate to be appointed a coach looking at his stint with each country, but he is far from being a favourite. Now, that doesn’t make coaches like Whatmore a bad one. However, their figures are best suited for countries where they can hold an assertive influence on the team — like England where Andy Flower’s tough stand reflects in the way they have performed. Discipline bears fruit in its nascent stages as we saw with India, where the Chappell- Dravid combo was hailed for India’s successive One Day International (ODI) victories while chasing. But in the long run, several egos get hurt. To deviate slightly, maybe in this context Matthew Hayden wasn’t wrong in stating that personal milestones matter more than team in subcontinent.
For Pakistan though the trouble extends to poor form of the players. Some of the players like Mohammad Hafeez are a liability and questions are bound to be raised in cricketing circles. The team’s recent performance with the bat appears as though Misbah is left alone like elderly individuals deserted by near and dear ones. Even during the first qualifier of the Champions League T20 (CLT20), 2013, Wasim Akram made some accurate observations on the struggling batsmen. Akram pointed out basic flaws while commentating during the game. It’s not the responsibility of individuals like Whatmore to take care of the not so productive talent at the domestic level.
If at all there is an effective method of setting things right, it starts with stabilising the domestic structure and getting selections right. Unfortunately for Pakistan, the latter is ridden with allegations of favouritism. To cite India’s example, the A series’ and Under-23’s allow selectors to provide a platform in which they can test the player’s temperament before making a way for them to the senior team. Someone like Ishwar Pandey was demoralised during his brief experience with Pune Warriors India (PWI) when Chris Gayle went ballistic during his 175 not out, but the right-armer earned his chances for India A and made a good impression.
Pakistan have a factory of fast bowlers. But to shape up a good batting unit, it has to test its young players and build a pool of talent like their neighbours by pushing them out of their comfort zone. Unless the management introspects upon the cause rather than the effect, Pakistan’s woes will continue even after Whatmore goes.