Dav Whatmore (right) with Muttiah Muralitharan during nets ahead of the 2003 World Cup Super Six match between Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe held at Buffalo Park in East London, South Africa © Getty Images
By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Dav Whatmore, born on March 16, 1954 is one of cricket’s most renowned coaches blessed with the ability to transform the fortunes of a side. Born in Ceylon [as Sri Lanka was known then], he went on to play Test cricket for Australia, but discovered his Midas touch in the country of his birth. Since then, teams from all over the globe have eyed his inputs and man management skills and he hasn’t disappointed — leaving a mark in all his challenges.
Whatmore spent the first eight years of his life in the Emerald Isle before his family emigrated to Australia when he was eight. He made his First-Class debut in 1975 and served Victoria for years in Australian domestic cricket. His chance at the highest level came in 1979-80 when the Australian side was depleted due to Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket. However, in a solitary One-Day International (ODI) and seven Tests, he wasn’t able to make a big impression.
It took Whatmore some time to find his true calling. He retired from cricket in 1988-89, ending a 14-year long career. Prior to his coaching days, he tried his hand at being an insurance inspector, a ledger keeper and also a leaf grader. However, the urge and passion to stay connected with the game is what brought him to the coaching world. He told the Sunday Observer, “I had a natural aptitude to help people, and something in me wanted to stay in cricket – be it as an umpire, coach or scorer.”
Starting from the lower levels with in Victoria, Whatmore climbed up the ladder and the journey brought him to the country of his birth. Little did anyone know that he would play a major role in the transformation of a side that wasn’t fancied in international cricket. In partnership with captain Arjuna Ranatunga, they changed the face of the Sri Lankan team and made them into a formidable force in one-day cricket.
The Ranatunga led side took the world by story at the 1996 World Cup when their fearless brand of cricket stunned the other teams. In an audacious move, they gave their openers — Sanath Jayasuriya and Kaluwithrana — the license to kill. The old saying goes that put the runs on the board in crucial games, but that was challenged as the Sri Lankans preferred to chase irrespective of the situation. In many ways, those tactics greatly influenced the way one-cricket was played. With that unique approach, they went on to clinch the trophy and made a statement that they were here to stay.
Tasting success at the world stage, Whatmore now moved to English county cricket where he plied his trade with Lancashire. Success was a natural conclusion as they clinched two National Leagues and the Natwest Trophy. An SOS from Sri Lanka after an unsuccessful campaign at the 1999 World Cup brought him back to the Emerald Isle. He continued through to the 2003 World Cup — where Sri Lanka made it through to the semi-final. The Four-Nation tournament in Sharjah that followed the big event was his last with the Sri Lankan side.
Leaving behind that legacy, one that changed the footing of Lankan cricket, Bangladesh approached and appointed him with similar hope in 2003. Although, he did not taste the same level of success, there were moments that remained etched in memory. In 2005, Bangladesh won their first Test match (against Zimbabwe) and also beat Australia in a remarkable ODI at Cardiff. Perhaps, the moment that stood out during his time at the helm was when Bangladesh qualified for the Super Eights at the 2007 World Cup. They beat neighbours India in the first round and got the better of South Africa later in the tournament.
Bangladesh cricket was yet to find its feet though as victories came few and far in between. Nevertheless, Whatmore left it in a better state than when he had taken over. As a result, his stocks rose and with numerous teams looking for a coach post the World Cup he was in the fray. Initially a top contender for the Indian job, he lost out and took up the post of the Director of Operations at the National Cricket Academy (NCA), Bangalore.
The Indian think-tank’s intentions were clear as they wanted a man of Whatmore’s calibre to mentor young talent. That would take him to Malaysia, where he guided the India under-19 side to victory at the junior World Cup in early 2008. Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja are the two prominent talents who emerged from that tournament and have gone on to represent the senior side.
Having spent two years at the NCA, Whatmore then took up a post with the Kolkata Knight Riders at the Indian Premier League (IPL). A side that had underperformed gradually raised its standards during his two seasons there. In 2010, they finished fifth and made it to the play-offs the following year. However, an international return was on the cards as he moved to Pakistan for bigger challenges.
Today, Whatmore continues to guide a promising Pakistan side that has the potential to become a real force. They have already had a few successes under him and the future beckons for bigger things.
Being a player and a coach are different cups of tea. The element of humanism and man management skills come into play as a coach and only a few great players go on to succeed in that department. While, history may not remember Whatmore the player, he has certainly left an indelible stamp as a coach.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)