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Whatmore - The frontrunner
by Partab Ramchand
May 21, 2007
Going by recent developments it would appear that Dav Whatmore has emerged as the front runner to take over as Indian coach sometime next month. The BCCI’s seven-member coach selection panel is expected to hold a discussion in Bangalore on June 4 and a new coach may be in place by June 10.

The Sri Lankan-born former Australian middle order batsman has never hidden his enthusiasm for the job. Midway through the World Cup even as the Indian campaign was grounded ignominiously and it was clear that Greg Chappell would be on his way out the 53-year-old Whatmore asked about his interest in the post made it clear that he was keen. ``If the opportunity comes along, surely any person who is a professional coach and prides himself in doing a good job would be interested. Any job is a challenge. I have taken up pretty good challenges in the last ten years and this will be another big challenge. There’s a huge passion for the game in India. It is a religion and there is enormous pressure on the team,’’ he said.

Ever since Chappell resigned several names – both Indian and foreign – have been doing the rounds. In an interim arrangement Ravi Shastri agreed to be the cricket manager only for the tour of Bangladesh owing to his media commitments. But the new coach will have to take up the post sometime next month given the fact that the Indian team has a packed international calendar before them.

The BCCI after playing with its cards close to its chest finally admitted that they discussed with Whatmore his interest in coaching the Indian team. Niranjan Shah, the BCCI secretary, said he was satisfied with his meeting with Whatmore in Bangladesh and would report his feedback to the seven-member committee appointed to find a new coach for the team. "I met with him on Saturday. I will report the details to the committee," said Shah. "I am satisfied with the meeting during which Whatmore expressed his desire to coach India." On his part Whatmore confirmed the discussion but just said "Let's see what happens on June 4. I'll know if I am successful.’’

Shah was part of a four-member Board delegation headed by its president Sharad Pawar who visited Bangladesh during the current tour. According to Shah the officials had come over on an invitation from the Bangladesh Cricket Board and not to negotiate with Whatmore whose contract with the Bangladesh team ends with the current Test series. Things however obviously fell into place. The seven-member committee is headed by Pawar and there are three former Indian captains - Sunil Gavaskar, Shastri and S Venkataraghavan. Board treasurer N Srinivasan and joint secretary MP Pandove are the other members with Shah as the convener.

Whatmore has already had "positive discussions" with Shastri about the prospect of his taking the India job when his term with Bangladesh ends. "I had a short discussion with Ravi about taking up the job of coaching India and I have spoken in the affirmative. The discussion centered round how interested I am. We are both satisfied with the initial discussion. All I can say is I am ready for the challenge if the opportunity comes. I am ready to sink my teeth into any problems and find out a solution as the BCCI would want me to." According to Whatmore Shastri told him that he would be happy to have his name put forward as a candidate. ``Whether anything materializes from that remains to be seen,’’ Whatmore said a few days ago.

There is little doubt that coaching the Indian team is one of the toughest assignments what with the intense scrutiny and the sky high expectations but Whatmore is confident that he is capable of working with players who are superstars. "It's a question of man-management and how far one wants to take one’s career forward and I have to deal with them individually if and when the time comes. I have had star material to work with always. When I coached Lancashire for two seasons they had nine England players in the side and three overseas players who were stars too. Sri Lanka had players who were big stars in their country. But I never found it difficult to handle them. What we tried to do was to ensure that the practice sessions were meaningful and the tactical part was taken care of. The team meetings were exciting and vibrant. I was not the only one talking. That's the whole idea."

Whatmore’s coaching credentials are impressive. As is well known he played a major role in Sri Lanka winning the World Cup in 1996. Besides a successful stint with Lancashire he has been Bangladesh’s coach since 2003. The side has shown marked improvement proof if required being seen in the recent World Cup where they defeated India and South Africa and quite unexpectedly made it to the Super Eight.

An interesting aspect of the selection of the new coach is that this time the cricketers want a piece of the action too. Sachin Tendulkar for one has made it clear that he would like the BCCI to consider the players' views while appointing the new coach. ``We hope that our inputs will be considered’’ he told reporters in Bangladesh the other day. Tendulkar's comments assume significance in the context of the well publicized misunderstandings he and many players had with Chappell during his tenure.

In the country itself opinion is divided whether the team should have an Indian coach or a foreign coach. Some former Indian cricketers have spoken out openly against having a foreign coach especially after the Chappell fiasco. Against that of course the fact remains that John Wright was a success as Chappell’s predecessor. Overall however one would like to agree with the balanced view of former Indian wicket keeper Syed Kirmani who just the other day said that it does not matter if the coach is Indian or foreign; he should be the best man for the job. And at the moment it looks like Whatmore has all but clinched it.

 
More Views by Partab Ramchand
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