It seems that Dav Whatmore has forgotten the art of being an improviser
By Azhar Hameed
The PCB has an interim set-up. The acting chairman is almost dysfunctional. The Pakistan team’s performance is at its lowest ebb. Two huge series are just round-the-corner. This is not a preview of a horror movie but factual chain of events which we are made to witness as helpless spectators who have a choice of “no options” at least for the time being. Who would be our Talisman or Messiah for change of fortunes? Never before in our cricketing history have we fallen into such a deep abyss of failures that at the moment it just seems bottomless. I wish like everybody else, a turnaround but when and how? And if nothing else there has to be a divine intervention.
Alas it seems the omnipotent is not even willing to intervene as if to teach us rightly, “God helps those who help themselves”. Let’s just then go back to the old drawing board and try to draw a new course of action which would steer us out of these troubled waters. But this effort would require some lateral thinking which has to be backed by some bold decision-making. It means that there would be some risks involved, it might go from bad to worse but I guess we are already there and any change in our present position would only be for the better. The word risk is synonymous to cricket as a bat to a batsman or a ball to a bowler but it certainly has become a rare commodity in Pakistan cricket. We have become so risk averse that we have forgotten that there are gains to be made if the risk is managed properly. Let’s see how.
Our coach Dav Whatmore has been known for being innovative. The Sri Lankans and Bangladeshis have benefitted from his coaching. He also had successful engagements at Lancashire. When PCB hired him, his coaching performances in the IPL were well below par. And that trend has unfortunately continued even during his present engagement with Pakistan team. Has he forgotten the art of being an improviser which basically implies that he is not prepared to take certain degree of risk in his coaching assignment? I don’t think so. I believe like any sportsman, a coach has a useful shelf life but in a coach’s case, this span of usefulness is entirely defined by the coach himself. His desire, hunger and the passion for doing things other than the normal actually translate into his coaching performances and tend to brand him as such. Sadly, I see Dav Whatmore as a mere shadow of his past and if Saeed Ajmal says, “Dav hasn’t made any difference” to me it means he hasn’t been the driver of change. And if he has apologised for his utterance than we are all in self-denial, Saeed Ajmal included.
Our captain Misbah-ul-Haq is having a great run of sublime form and I sincerely hope that his Midas touch perpetuates for Pakistan’s cause. As a captain he has had mixed results and of late it’s his captaincy which has been the subject of much debate. Misbah as a captain belongs to the conventional school of thought and relies on doing things by the book and then hoping that things would start to happen for him as a natural outcome. In this age of technology the competing teams are equally aware of their strengths and weaknesses and as of their opponents. And if you happen to follow the same game plan every time you take to field then there is every likelihood that you would be sorted out to the extent that your strengths would be converted into weaknesses.
For example, if your favourite shot is the square-cut then the point and gully areas would be well positioned and anything in the air would be gleefully accepted. So an assured shot strength has been turned into an obvious weakness. Similarly while bowling, the conventional field settings have been re-configured with aggressive and innovative field placements based on the strengths and weaknesses of the opponents. The point is that most captains are willing to take calculated risks in order to make things happen rather than hoping them to happen. In the twilight of his career I think Misbah as a captain has nothing to lose and in the forthcoming series must be prepared to think out-of-box and must try to outwit his counter parts by being adventurous.
Finally the national selection committee has to do its bit of risk taking by selecting a mix of youth and experience even if that means picking up new faces in the Test squad like Sohaib Maqsood, Zulfiqar Babar etc. I am no clairvoyant and as such can’t predict with certainty the outcome of impending series but one thing I can guarantee is by taking chance on some new faces, we might be able to spring a few surprises for our opponents. But before we do that, we need to ask ourselves, “Are we willing to take risks”? The coach, the captain and the selection committee must address this question before embarking on the UAE sojourn.