At the World Cup, the most experienced of all the national coaches would be former Australian batsman Dav Whatmore. The stocky Australian is coaching Zimbabwe. This will be Whatmore's fourth stint as a coach at the World Cup after having been in charge of Sri Lanka at 1996 and 2003 editions, as also with Bangladesh at the 2007 event.
Dav Whatmore (right) with NZ coach Mike Hesson yesterday
"The Sri Lankan stint was a bit more about skill because of suitability to the conditions in the subcontinent. This (Zimbabwe) is a team which has not played too much cricket over last year or two. They have recently been humbled by Bangladesh in Bangladesh. So it is a chance to redeem themselves. The aim is to do better than what the last series results were.
"What's going in our favour is the fact that the conditions will not be sub-continental. In some ways, it will be similar to my stint with Bangladesh when I took them to West Indies in 2007. We were not favourites by any imagination then, but we targeted the next round and we managed to pull it off," described Whatmore about his various stints as coach at World Cups.
Whatmore has come in with a very specific agenda right now to help plan Zimbabwe's push to be in the quarter-finals at the World Cup. In essence, Whatmore is looking for three wins in the league stage to go to the quarter-finals. Zimbabwe is in Group B of the tournament alongside defending champions India, 1975 and 1979 winner West Indies, 1992 title holder Pakistan, South Africa and qualifiers Ireland and UAE.
"There might be a number of teams lower down the order looking to beat each other like Ireland, Scotland, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. We are not any different. We have an opportunity. We can be competitive and win against UAE and Ireland. I do see that Ireland has improved and put in consistent performances. We have to be at our very best to try and win the third game. In saying that, we have a number of things that we need to look to be able to perform consistently.
We need to prepare well, get the strategy right, create a happy and healthy environment, and manage the team well," said Whatmore about his targets for the
tournament. One interesting aspect of Whatmore's coaching stints at the World Cup is the fact that his sides have always beaten India in the showpiece event. In 1996, Sri Lanka beat India twice, while in 2007 Bangladesh knocked out India. Is he hoping for an encore? "We will be playing India last in Auckland and by then we will know our fate. But who knows," said Whatmore.
The Zimbabwe coaching offer came along because of a chance interaction with former Zimbabwe captain Alistair Campbell during Zimbabwe's last series in Bangladesh. Whatmore and Campbell were co-commentators during the series. Campbell has now gone on to become the managing director of Zimbabwe Cricket.
Zimbabwe players celebrate the wicket of NZ's Tom Latham during the World Cup warm-up match at Lincoln Oval yesterday. Pics/Getty Images
Whatmore took up the job because he sensed that there was a 'real keenness' in Zimbabwe to improve their stock in cricket. "I have always been associated with teams that are ranked lower. I like to help them get consistent and better. Then there is the feeling in Zimbabwe that enough is enough. There is a real feeling emerging from the top with their chairman Wilson Manase epitomising what the country is feeling about the sport.
"Everybody — the players, the ZC administration want to turn it around. Everybody wants to see an improvement," added Whatmore. In his role as coach, Whatmore is expected to be around only till the World Cup, but if things go according to plan, he could even stay longer. There are a few things on his agenda, including possibly helping the return of players who have left the Zimbabwe system.
He believes if those players add value to the squad, then there is a possibility for him to work on the homecoming of those players too. "They have lost a lot of good players. The situation is if Zimbabwe want to remain competitive with the rest of the world they need a good structure, they need competition.
They certainly need a lot more cricket than what has been the case. A lot of efforts are being made right now. It is exciting if certain things materialise," revealed Whatmore. The experienced coach is hopeful of Zimbabwe making some impact at the World Cup. What gives Whatmore hope is the conditions Down Under. "I just feel that the boys will be a lot more comfortable in those conditions because the ball won't stop and turn, but will come on to the bat. You need to make runs, if you do not make certain amount of runs to set a decent target then you are not going to win.
Big effort needed
"We need a big effort from our players. If our boys are mentally tough, understand this is what we must do, then we will be in the game. We want to be in the game towards the end of the second innings of every match," opined Whatmore. While analysing the squad at his disposal, Whatmore expressed hope in the top order of the side in Sikander Raza, Hamilton Masakadza, Brendan Taylor, Sean Williams and Craig Ervine.
"Hamilton Masakadza will be playing his first World Cup after missing previous tournaments due to injuries and bad form. We can expect healthy contributions from Brendan Taylor who is one of our best players. Williams is a hard worker.
At six, Craig Ervine in pretty decent. Stuart Matsikenyeri is back again. We are able to bat deep with Elton, Chigumbura and Solomon Mire being there too," said Whatmore. Above all, what Whatmore wants from his squad is this: "A slick, athletic side who are willing to cut their bloody arms, dive, be full of skill and bat deep. We are moving in that direction."
The number of international teams Dav Whatmore has coached — Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Zimbabwe
> 1996: Apart from the final. I remember the India-Sri Lanka game at New Delhi. It was a good victory. That was a game which gave us a lot of confidence and sticks
> 2003: Chaminda Vaas' dream spell against Bangladesh at Pietermaritzburg is something I remember. He took a hat-trick off the first three balls of the match and then took a fourth in the same over.
> 2007: Beating India set the tone and we continued to gain from that to make the Super Eights.
> Vs South Africa (Feb 15) at Seddon Park, Hamilton
> Vs UAE (Feb 19) at Saxton Oval, Nelson
> Vs West Indies (Feb 24) at Manuka Oval, Canberra
> Vs Pakistan (March 1) at Brisbane Cricket Ground
> Vs Ireland (March 7) at Bellerive Oval, Hobart
> Vs India (March 14) at Eden Park, Auckland