July 12, 2015 12:43:44 am
11 am: Dav Whatmore arrives at the Harare Sports Club alone. Zimbabwe’s practice session is scheduled for three in the afternoon. But here the coach is, four hours too early.
He places his chair by the boundary rope, crosses one leg over the other and trains his eyes towards the pitch. Half-an-hour passes, but his gaze doesn’t shift.
When asked about it later he says he was ‘minutely visualising yesterday’s game’. Zimbabwe had lost the first one-dayer by a shave on Friday evening and at 11:30 am on a bright Saturday morning, you could almost see the reel of highlights roll behind his eyes.
Whatmore must have visualised Tinashe Panyangara and Brian Vitori bowl beautiful lines to leave India’s openers in a daze. He would’ve revisited Vitori, Donald Tiripano and Chamu Chibhabha reduce the visiting side to 87/5, only for Ambati Rayudu (124) and Stuart Binny (77) to play the knocks of their respective lives to get India to 255.
“Yes we needed another early wicket. But had you given us a chase of 256 at the start of the day we would’ve taken it,” Whatmore says. Few apart from Elton Chigumbura (who recorded his second ODI hundred in as many games) did. Here, he would’ve surely gone over Vusi Sibanda, Hamilton Masakadza and Sikandar Raza throwing away starts, leaving their captain with a little too much to do. With four runs too much to score.
“You and I don’t need to be Einstein to know that three of our boys have been naughty,” the coach says.
“Two of them scored at a strike rate of 50 (Sibanda, Masakadza) and one at 110 (Raza). None of them made their ample time at the crease count.”
3PM: Practice time. The naughty and the noble arrive all at once. But there will be no practice till four.
Whatmore has summoned his students, all 16 of them, into a squatted huddle in the middle of the field.
“We lost because of a combination of our death bowling and loose batting,” he says. The class nods. “But I absolutely despise, absolutely hate, absolutely bloody hate batsmen throwing away starts.” So instantly, the circle splits into two.
Zimbabwe’s batsmen stay back with the former Victoria opener. The bowlers and bowling coach Douglas Hondo form a separate huddle. In both groups, the leaders are vociferous and animated. In both groups there’s plenty of admonishing. And in both groups, the meeting ends with hugs and pats on backs.
Job done, Whatmore returns to his plastic chair. “No matter where you in this world, if a player or a group of players have done the wrong thing, they are looking for a kick up the bum,” he says. “As a coach, you must know to pick the right time to give it. But if you do it too often, the bum kick loses its effect. It’s no different here in Zimbabwe.”
The most daunting task
Zimbabwe. Twenty six years after embracing the life of a coach — a period that saw him win the World Cup with Sri Lanka, set Bangladesh on the path to their current peak, rekindle the love for the game in Pakistan and nurture rising talents at the National Cricket Academy in India — Whatmore took upon his most daunting task yet. Zimbabwe.
By his own admission, soon after signing the dotted line in December last year, the hexagenarian found ‘magnificient weather and a cozy four-bedroom Harare apartment. But most of all, I found a real challenge.’
“I think that’s a fair comment,” he says, analysing his words a second or two later. “Look, firstly, we’re eleventh in a 10-team sport. It’s a challenge in any way you look at it to get this team up and running. But it all feels worth it and vastly enjoyable when my side is competitive.”
All through this year, Whatmore’s year, Zimbabwe have been competitive. The reason was Brendan Taylor for the first half of the year, a period that witnessed the captain finishing the World Cup with two hundreds, 400 odd runs and his international career.
“I began working with Zimbabwe knowing fully well who my core squad will be. And when that changes so soon, when important cogs of that wheel fall off, it becomes very hard,” Whatmore says, looking pale, looking like he lost something. “I found out on the morning of the Pakistan match at the World Cup that Brendan was leaving. He confided in me and I could understand. But it was bloody brutal to deal with it.”
Bloodier still and as brutal as losing Taylor to County cricket in March was losing an up-and-coming all-rounder in Solomon Mire to higher education in Australia in April and the limp-armed pacer in Tendai Chatara (Zim’s highest wicket-taker in the World Cup) to a calf-tear in May. Best batsman, best bowler, best all-rounder, vanished in the space of three months.
“That’s not the end of it,” Whatmore adds, brushing his moustache for effect. “I have a sneaky suspicion that there are others preying on a couple of good players that I am trying to groom in this very squad. That’s really disconcerting as my job is to build a team.”
Teams aren’t built around individuals, but Chigumbura’s rise in the second half of Whatmore’s Zimbabwe spell could well be considered a pillar, if not a foundation.
“When we found out that Brendan was leaving, it was Elton who raised his hand and said that he wanted to bat at number four. I’m chuffed for him,” he says, even as the session winds down around him. “We need more guys to show the same level of maturity and take the same amount of responsibility. When that happens, we’ll be a team to contend with.”
5 PM: The players collect their kits and leave for the bus. Whatmore rises from his chair and heads to the selection room. He isn’t due to leave till seven in the evening, till the selection meeting for tomorrow’s game ends. And when he does leave for his cozy four bedroom apartment, Whatmore will exit the Harare Sports Club exactly the way entered it. Alone, yet swarmed in thought.
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