Whatmore wants better pitches to harness young talent
  Published : 12:51 am  February 27, 2017 | No comments so far | Print This Post  | 0 views
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By Shehan Daniel

Few coaches are remembered as fondly by Sri Lankan cricket fans as Davenell Whatmore, the Sri Lankan-born Australian coach, who in rags-to-riches fashion took a group of gritty cricketers to World Cup glory – an achievement that remains Sri Lanka’s greatest moment in its cricketing history.

Dav Whatmore

Whatmore, whose most recent international full-time coaching stint was in Zimbabwe, studied at Royal College Colombo before emigrating to Australia and, in a strange sort of irony, is coaching their traditional rivals ahead of their 138th Battle of the Blues next month.

Speaking to Daily Mirror, Whatmore elaborated on his coaching role at S. Thomas’ College, the team playing this year’s big match, and what a young cricketer can learn from modern great Virat Kohli.

Q: You have a special place in Sri Lanka’s cricketing lore. How does it feel to come back and coach boys who could be the next generation of cricketers and World Cup winners?

It’s always fantastic to come back here. I have to say I haven’t been back too many times, in the last ten years or so but whenever I do it’s an absolute pleasure to come back to this little paradise of an island. Specifically this time I am doing a little work with the S. Thomas’ College and it’s been a wonderful experience, I’ve had terrific support from the Head Coach, the Assistant Coach, and the Warden. In fact everybody around this area has been wonderful to me, so it’s been a wonderful experience.

Q: What exactly is your role with S. Thomas’ College and have you had to adapt the way you coach, since you’re more familiar with handling international cricketers?

Basically I’m between full-time jobs. I finished my last assignment in Africa and I had a number of months at home in a very cold Melbourne winter, doing a lot of gardening and I recuperated well. I recharged the batteries and then I returned to a T20 competition in Bangladesh, and after that I had a bit of spare time came here, worked with a couple of academies on and off. And then one of the sessions was to come along to S. Thomas’ and spend (some time conducting) a training session. And that’s how it started. I was very pleased to see the facilities and I was happy to work with the first XI and the second XI and it grew from there. So the head-coach asked me what my plans were, and I said ‘I’m free in January, how about I come and spend a bit more time’ and he sought the permission of the warden and the committee and that’s how it came about. So I’m here more or less for five to six weeks, culminating in the big match.

I’m very much hands on (in the consultancy role), with the players as well as the coaches. We’ve also had a theory session on the importance of thinking as a cricketer, and interaction with other junior coaches in the school as well as a lot of discussion with the senior coach Dinesh and his support, Dilshan. So it’s been good.

(Had to change the approach) A little bit. But the beauty at this level is that you’re always working with the future. It’s always the future of the sport. Even though we’re playing against other opposition schools, every now and again we’re able to chat to opposition kids because they are still part of the future for the country. So, that’s been wonderful, but not without its frustrations — because it’s very difficult to put an old head on young shoulders. Lots of mistakes, keep being repeated, but you’ve just got to strive to ensure that they improve and performances increase.

Q: You said your time with the team culminates with the big match. What do you think of the team this year and do you think they will be able to regain the shield after ten years?

It’s a young team. Pretty much a difficult job for them to come up and play in a very big match, like the Royal-Thomian. It had a very special place in the history of cricket, and it comes with a lot of pressure. The boys this season have begun poorly but they’ve increased their performance and they’ve improved so much. The one thing this team does not lack, and that’s a real self-belief, to win the challenge. And there have been plenty of challenges along the way even in my short time.

Q: There have been some rumours that some of the players that are in the team are there not on merit but because of influence.

I’ve heard some very naughty things being written and said about these boys who are selected in the XI. And I’ve only been here for almost, on and off, for two and a half to three months. So I can categorically tell everybody, there is the least biasness I’ve ever seen in selection. And we all know that from time to time there’s a real push for reasons other than cricket. But in this situation, nothing other than merit, nothing other than performance, is the basis around which teams are selected and I am very happy to see that. And still there are one or two spots that we are looking to fill, so opportunities will be given to players to showcase and tell us that ‘you are the one’ that should be picked for this big match.

Q: Sri Lanka has a strong school cricketing system. How important is that to developing international cricketers and do you see a strong cricketing system at S. Thomas’ College?

It’s (S. Thomas’) a very traditional school. Lots of other schools are also very traditional and the amount of cricket that’s played here is wonderful to see and that’s how you get development. You can practise all you like but you need to continue to play your competition. And there is plenty of competition here at the school, and with other schools. So school cricket in Sri Lanka is in good shape. Some surfaces they play on can always be improved, but the competitiveness and the talent, is very much obvious to me, and the challenge there of course for the Schools’ Association and Sri Lanka Cricket is to develop that talent.

Q: You had two stints as Sri Lanka coach. Where do you see Sri Lanka Cricket at the moment, and how do you view the progress since you left in 2003?

My comments are as an outsider looking in and I’m not privy to lots of information. But clearly they are in a rebuilding phase, and it’s not easy to cover two great players that have left the game. (They’ve been) Without the services of a Lasith Malinga, who has been injured also for a lengthy period of time. It’s not easy. It’s a rebuilding phase but I can see obvious talent there, so we just need to be a little careful about the criticisms that come their way and we need to be more objective, keep providing more opportunities and support.

Q: Last year was 20 years since Sri Lanka won the Cricket World Cup. What kind of relationship do you maintain with those players, from the 1996 team?

I was part of a celebration (of the World Cup win) in Sydney. I wasn’t able to attend the function in Melbourne, where I live. But certainly I met them all in Sydney and had an absolute ball, reminiscing and reuniting with them all. There were only three players who couldn’t make it for other reason, but it was great. We played a T20 game, I fielded for 20 overs, took Arjuna’s place, and had a sore back. Aravinda made one of the best fifties you’ll ever want to to see. It’s almost like he never retired. He’s just a wonderful, wonderful player of skill and technique, it just wound the clock back.

Q: Your exit as coach after you first stint was somewhat premature. Do you regret how that ended and do you feel you had more to give Sri Lanka cricket at that time?

Absolutely. That’s going back a long way, 20 years or so. I don’t know. I left early, I got out of my contract early because the situation at the time was, let’s just say, was not conducive for me to stay. It’s a very sad part to be honest, but that’s in the past, I’ve got over that, that’s for sure. I hold no grudges. I really enjoyed my time for a year and a half and then came back for another four years in 1999.

Q: Would you come back and coach the Sri Lankan team if you were presented with the opportunity?

I’m about to swing into a more development side of things. I can never say never I guess, with full member countries or associate countries, but I think development now gives me a real kick; a buzz. So I’m looking to spend a bit more time in India with the Sri Ramachandra University where we’re hoping to develop a number of camps and programmes there that will offer some real good advice to boys not just in Chennai or India but also in the region, and anywhere in the world. It’s a new initiative, I’m thoroughly excited, and it looks like kicking off in April.

Q: You came close to returning as the Sri Lanka ‘A’ team coach last year. Are you disappointed that that fell through and you missed that opportunity?

Well you can’t have everything I guess. It’ll always be nice to be able to return and have some inputs into development here in the younger ones. As I said, never say never, but you never know what happens in the future.

Q: There is a perception that the modern cricketer is over-coached, with a team having any number of coaches. Do you think, as a coach yourself, there is this danger?

There is a danger, because the more coaches you have in the group, there is a tendency for those coaches to justify their positions and grab the players and say ‘I’ve got you now this is my specialised area and I’m going to give everything I’ve got’ — if everyone has that attitude the poor old individual will have no energy for his competition. So it’s a balance. Head coaches now have a little bit more of coordinating and (they have to ensure) that there is right amount of information in the overall set up for the individuals to play. But it’s nice to have support coaches, to have a head coach who has the confidence to work with his little team within the main group, and to ensure that everyone is on the same page, the communication is up to scratch and the whole machine moves with a well oiled effort.

Q: You coached Virat Kohli as a youngster when you were the India Under 19 coach. You’ve seen his remarkable ascent to the top of the game. How proud are you of what he has achieved so far, and what lesson can a young cricketer learn from him?

Virat came to the NCA when I was there a few weeks before the (2008 Under 19) World Cup. I was fortunate enough to be given the job of coaching that team; we won it. He was always skillful, he was always physical in his approach to training as well as competition. He was always positive and confident, but the thing to me that changed him was when he lost weight and that’s not an easy thing to do — when you decide ‘that’s it, I’m going to lose a number of kilogrammes to ensure my body is in better shape so that I can bat longer, and that my concentration level is going to be lengthened.’ When a player can do that he’s got real discipline. That was to me the turning point and it does not surprise me to see that he reached so many milestones in his young career so far.

That discipline (is an important lesson). That will to do well, to win the game. The will to perform, when it’s tough, you’ve got to have that mental strength. Lot of people have the hardware, not many have the software and he’s got it in abundance.

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