Ranji Trophy: A chance for Dav Whatmore to make history

Can Dav Whatmore help Kerala clinch its first-ever Ranji Trophy final berth? The real challenge would be to treat the semifinal as any other game, says the head coach.

Dav Whatmore has been head coach of Kerala’s cricket team for more than two years.   -  M. Vedhan

Kerala coach Dav Whatmore is no stranger to firsts. In a coaching career spanning 25 years, Whatmore sent Sri Lanka’s cricketing fortunes to dizzy heights by helping it clinch its maiden World Cup title in 1996, and guided Bangladesh to its first-ever Test victory, in 2005.

Now, he is two steps away from shepherding Kerala to its maiden Ranji Trophy title triumph.

However, unlike the other teams, Kerala is a domestic cricket team. What made him take a break from international cricket? “The opportunity was there with the Sri Ramachandra Arthroscopy and Sports Science Centre (SRASSC) in Chennai. We decided to launch an academy of cricketing excellence there,” Whatmore said on the eve of Kerala’s Ranji Trophy semifinal against Vidarbha.

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“The academy has been two years in the making there. It’s beginning to get an image. It was mainly aimed at the school holidays — April, May, June, July and a little bit of August with your kids of [expatriates] from other countries. Then there was an opportunity to work with Kerala and together with JK Mahindra and [Kerala Cricket Association] game development manager Ramesh Subramanian, we ended up here,” he explained.

Valuable experience

The former Australian cricketer began with a six-month contract as head coach from mid-September 2017. He oversaw a highly rewarding season for Kerala, which made it to the last eight — for the first time — before losing to eventual champion Vidarbha in the quarterfinals in Surat.

Now, as Kerala gears up to face the same opponent, Whatmore believes last season’s loss taught the side a few important lessons.

Kerala was defeated by Vidarbha last season in the quarterfinals. It was a valuable lesson for his side, says Whatmore.

 

“Vidarbha was averaging 400 runs in the first innings in that season but we bowled them out for 240 which was a really good effort. It should have been less, let me tell you, but we couldn’t capitalise on the start. But we are richer for the experience,” he recalled.

Mentoring a bunch of cricketers totally unknown to him, Whatmore has forged a unit which now boasts arguably one of the best new-ball attacks among domestic teams in Sandeep Warrier and Basil Thampi.

‘Abundance of talent’

All-rounder Jalaj Saxena has impressed with bat and ball while Sachin Baby has led the side with gusto. And Whatmore is impressed by the talent on display in India’s domestic circuit. “There is an abundance of talent in India. Getting your domestic setup as strong as possible is quintessential to an international side’s success. I have been with Kerala for two years now, and have had the opportunity to take a look at some teams, not all, but India has some great cricketers going around. And it’s not just the leap from Ranji Trophy to Team India. These guys have other stepping stones such as India A who play a lot of their matches home and abroad. Doing well there helps you get noticed,” he explained.

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Sixty-eight years after its first appearance in the Ranji Trophy, Kerala has qualified for its maiden semifinal. Whatmore, munching his sandwich, said the real challenge would be to treat it as any other game.

With the beauty of the mountains and the lush greenery of Wayanad in the backdrop, Whatmore and his men will embark on their tryst with destiny.