Ranji Trophy: Kerala has come a long way from Surat, says Dav Whatmore

The coach says the boys are confident after their quarterfinal victory against Gujarat.

For someone who has guided Sri Lanka to a stunning World Cup triumph and Bangladesh to its much-awaited maiden Test win, the offer to coach a struggling Ranji Trophy side may not have looked particularly glamorous. But, in his second year into the job, Dav Whatmore has reasons to be pleased.

After taking Kerala to an unprecedented quarterfinal last season, he has done even better this time around. Kerala will meet defending champion Vidarbha in the semifinal at the Wayanad Cricket Stadium, Krishnagiri, from Thursday.

The last time the two sides met, in that quarterinal match at Surat, Kerala had lost by 412 runs.

The coach, however, believes Kerala has come a long way since then. “We have become a lot wiser, especially when it comes to playing [in] the knockout stage,” Whatmore told The Hindu over phone from the team’s base at Sulthan Bathery. “They are a tough unit and are further strengthened by the return of Umesh Yadav.”

Has the momentum

The Lanka-born Australian, however, is confident Kerala has momentum going for it. “And we are playing at home, too,” he said. “And the boys are of course confident after the victory against Gujarat in the quarterfinals. They were a strong side too, featuring a couple of India players.”

Whatmore admitted the absence of Sanju Samson, who broke a finger in the Gujarat match, was a big loss.

“He is a game changer and had made a welcome return to form with those two fifties in the Himachal Pradesh match,” he said. “But we believe we have ways to overcome the loss of Sanju.”

He added that Jalaj Saxena, the off-spinning all-rounder who has been in brilliant form, is fit enough to play. “He will be able to execute the plans we have for him,” he said. “There have, of course, been a lot of other good performances right through this season.”

Satisfying season

He said it had been a satisfying season for him as a coach. “No coach is ever completely satisfied,” he said. “But the team has done really well, though we have had some challenges with injuries and poor form. And when we look back we could see the current team is a lot different from the one we played at the start of the tournament.”

Indeed. Only five of those players figured in the match against Gujarat.

But, remarkably enough, all those changes he made worked — be it P. Rahul, Mohammed Azharuddeen, Vishnu Vinod or Vinoop Manoharan. Not only did he change the team, he shuffled the batting order a lot as well — and it worked, too.

It will be interesting to see what else he comes up with against Vidarbha.

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