Nepal’s newly appointed coach Dav Whatmore’s portfolio is strong, mighty strong. He guided Sri Lanka to their maiden World Cup trophy in 1996, establishing the island nation as a cricketing giant. That achievement was followed by proper management of a Bangladeshi side during a period when their Test status was put to the test.
Under Whatmore, Bangladesh had also shocked India and South Africa in the 2007 World Cup that saw them progress into the second round of the global event for the first time. He also headed Pakistan to the 2012 Asia Cup title.
The Sri Lanka-born Australian has been the most successful nomadic coach with a long bio–data that also includes stints with India’s franchise Twenty20 and domestic First Class competitions.
Recently, he was tasked with taking Singapore to the Asia Cup Twenty20 and that was partially accomplished after they won the ACC Eastern Region Twenty20 Qualifier title this year.
“He is a big name. There will be a psychological impact, both on us and our opponents,” said national team skipper Gyanendra Malla regarding the on-field advantage of having a renowned coach. “I think he is the right man to lead considering the level where we are in right now. Since other nations are growing technically and tactically, his presence might help us.”
But cricket is not played by big name.
Whatmore’s over two-decade long globetrotting career as a coach now embarks on a new adventure which is expected to be difficult, if not the most difficult, and equally testing for the 66-year old. From the first week of 2021, he will be in charge of one of the minnows of world cricket, but a nation obsessed with achievement.
However, in reality it has nothing to boast of except for cricketers’ passion towards the game.
A topsy-turvy ride
Nepal, in fact, has done nothing internally to make sure they hold on to their One Day International (ODI) status when a new cycle for the Associates begins after the 2023 World Cup Qualifiers.
Nepal’s cricket has been highlighted with occasional achievements but blighted by multiple failures. From a Division 5 team in 2010 to becoming the ODI nation in absence of a foreign head coach, the road has always been topsy-turvy. Compared to the flight taken by Afghanistan, further progress for Nepal is not guaranteed.
The suspicion of losing the hard earned ODI status will remain.
With Whatmore roped in, former national team skipper Paras Khadka wants settled youngsters to step up a gear now and a proper system is put into place.
“We have come this far because of the hard work mixed with some luck. Its obvious that there will be expectations with his (Whatmore’s) arrival but he cannot alone bring the change. It needs to come through a proper managed system that can translate into on-field achievements,” Paras said.
“On the field, there are youngsters who now have settled in the team and they need to play with belief. But they have not been able to get out of their own survival stage. We need to get that fear away. The players are given freedom and since we have a coach now, the senior players and captain will always do what it takes to give shape to the team,” he added.
A formidable ODI team among Associates
With time already running out and a busy schedule under the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2 looming, Whatmore might not have the luxury to reboot. Nepal doesn’t have a proper domestic 50-over league structure that can promptly enlarge the existing pool of cricketers. A two-week tournament is never going to help and unlike most Associate nations, the country would not allow foreign recruits to be their trump card.
“Things are not going to change overnight (with Whatmore’s arrival). We have to think for a long run and improve gradually. We want him to make us a formidable ODI nation among the Associates because the talent is there. If he can use his connections, our youngsters can benefit. They might get the exposure they want,” captain Gyanendra said.
Nepal are left to play 32 matches under the League 2 which is the pathway to the 2023 World Cup. The top three teams from League 2 directly reach the World Cup Qualifier and bottom four will join two nations from Challenge League in a six-team Qualifier Playoff.
Only the top two teams from the Playoff will make it to the Global Qualifier in Zimbabwe from where fate of the Associate nations for the next four years will be determined.
Hong Kong, Singapore, Uganda, Qatar and Malaysia are among the teams tipped to make progress to the Qualifier Playoff. The Associate fixtures have been intriguing to such an extent that Nepal, despite taking long strides, have lost to these teams at different time frame.
As Nepal set eyes on the second appearance at the ICC World Twenty20 through 2022 Qualifiers, Whatmore will also be under pressure to make sure he builds a team that finishes inside the top three of League 2 and plays in the 50-over World Cup Qualifiers without any fuss of going through the Playoffs.
For Nepal, making it to the 2023 World Cup in India is a far cry as the dogfight for only two available spots in the Global Qualifiers is certain to get intense in presence of five other teams among the Test nations.
Although ICC is yet to outline its plans after 2023, Whatmore could be the key for Nepal in retaining the ODI status as a strong Associate side.