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|June 3, 2000||
What more than Whatmore?Harsha Bhogle
Over the years I have been a great fan of Sri Lankan cricket and particularly of its cricketers. For whatever the Australians might think, they are simple people and carry a most unassuming air around them. And having watched them very closely, even if from a studio, during two Test matches against Pakistan earlier in the year, my admiration has grown in the same proportion as my sense of despair for Indian cricket.
I believe we have a great deal to learn from them, from their success and their failure, though I wonder sometimes if learning will ever be a feature of our cricket. They have had a few upheavals in their cricket but in the last twelve months, they have taken some outstanding decisions and the results are showing already. They have appointed a truly excellent coach and they have concentrated as much on the national team as on the 'A' squad. And, as a result, not only are they playing a modern brand of cricket, they have some very talented cricketers on the fringe of the national team.
Identifying the right people is such a crucial element in any organisation and the Sri Lankans struck gold with their trainer Alex Kontourri. Speaking to a couple of their senior cricketers here in Dhaka, I was struck by the warmth and by the respect with which they referred to him. Time and again, as I tried to probe into the reasons for their emergence, and now their resurgence, they kept talking about Kontourri and how, by being fitter cricketers, they had become better cricketers. It is a lesson that has not just been lost on the traditional powers on the sub-continent, it has been thrown out of the window. Certainly in Pakistan, which has the most shocking fitness record.
Sri Lanka also have the perfect man as coach. I have long been a great admirer of Dav Whatmore, as much for his ability to improve cricketing skills, as for his low-key approach. Whatmore knows he is not a star and he tries very hard not to be one either. Very often, it is in understanding your role that the first step towards success is taken.
He has pretty strong views though, as you might expect from someone who has to coach an Asian team. He believes, and it is an increasingly heard view in world cricket, that stars would struggle to make good coaches. "I only played seven Tests" he said "and so I could think about my mistakes and what I did wrong. And that helps me understand people better. If you have been a star, you probably haven't done too much wrong."
There is enormous merit in that statement because very few cricket teams are made up entirely of stars. Some have one or two, most none at all.
Invariably a star has the arrogance of success around him as well. And it is not easy to move from the spotlight to being a backroom boy. A coach has to be a backroom boy, his job has to extend no further than improving someone else's performance and so his life must revolve around their's, not the other way around.
"It is all about man-management" Whatmore says, something he learnt through spending four years at the Victorian Institute of Sport in Melbourne.
The fact that coaching is a profession in itself is one of those realities we like to wish away. One of the greatest ills in our system is that we are convinced that a player, through having been there, knows everything that needs to be known about the game. About a cover drive maybe, about an outswinger maybe, but he needs to know just as much about what drives individuals to perform.
"A coach has to be a headmaster, a father, a brother, a friend, everything in part. He has to play different roles at different times" Whatmore said and you have to agree.
Whatmore's other contribution, and it has been invaluable, has been to make Sri Lanka the best fielding side in the region. I had been waiting to ask him about that because that, and fitness, represent the two most frustrating aspects of our cricket.
"Does it constitute 50 per cent of the modern game?" I asked him. "Oh no," he said "much more".
That night I watched Pakistan thrown away a winning match against the West Indies with some of the most shocking fielding I have seen. I had heard it and I had seen it !
Sri Lanka have been able to achieve this remarkable progress because, ironically, their Board is in turmoil and they have an interim committee made up of administrators and former cricketers, all of whom love the game and are deeply committed to Sri Lankan cricket. They are simple words those, love and commitment, but they can work miracles.
Sadly we have too much unnecessary baggage in our cricket, too many people who don't care about Indian cricket. And the last few weeks have proved that once again.
Love and commitment. Sri Lanka have that at the moment. India don't.
Mail Prem Panicker
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