KOCHI: Euphoria has set in among cricket fans in Kerala after they made it to the last eight of the Ranji Trophy, a feat that they have been dreaming of ever since their First Class debut in 1957-58. During the last couple of seasons, they were close to making the cut but choked at crucial moments.
Plus, factional feuds within the team also marooned the team’s prospects so much that discussions on the appointment of the next coach centred on one thing: “He must be able to bring the team together”.
Enter Dav Whatmore, who had guided Sri Lanka to their 1996 World Cup win. As the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) officials expected, the Australian’s arrival put their house in order.
“One tough, bad guy, is all that is needed to straighten up the rest. Whatmore was a bigger star than any other player in the team ” said one senior KCA official.
When the 63-year-old joined the team at SRMC (Chennai) for a month-long training camp, the players knew that the days of squabbling within the camp was a thing of the past. Whatmore is a tough taskmaster but has the knack of easily convincing players.
“We thought he would be like those foreign coaches who would cocoon themselves and impose diktats on us. But he proved to be different.
He talked to us when we were going through rough patches and let us know what role we need to play. He backed us to the hilt,” said Kerala skipper Sachin Baby. Baby revealed an instance where Whatmore backed a rookie because he thought it would work.
The occasion was their contest against Jammu and Kashmir, and Kerala were badly in need of a win. On the eve of the match, Baby was thinking of going with the more-experienced Fabid Farook as their third spinner. But, Whatmore batted for KC Akshay, a U-23 Kerala player who was yet to appear in a First Class match.
“He felt the left-arm spinner could be of use. It worked,” recollected Baby.
Akshay took nine wickets in that match. As Whatmore goaded their batters to reinvent themselves, bowling coach Tinu Yohannan handled their pacers well and made sure that they deliver when required.
“Like batting, bowling also needs partnerships. When the spinners were bowling well from one end, fast bowlers could keep up the pressure,” Yohannan said. The former India pacer said that it was the pre-season camp that helped Kerala cope with the rigours of the Ranji Trophy.
“Primary attention was on skills. Then we had simulated match environs where the boys were asked to perform. That gave them a sort of real-time experience. Fitness was another area we worked on, and that helped the bowlers a lot.”
Now, with the team ready to face Vidarbha in the quarterfinals, Whatmore felt that the team could progress further, provided they carry the momentum forward.
“We have good players and they are working us a unit. They can get better with time.”