NEW ZEALAND’S top-order did just about everything wrong before Daniel Vettori and Jesse Ryder showed just what was possible in a spirited recovery. What will India’s top-order do when their turn comes? In a freewheeling interview John Wright, the former India coach, opens up on the Indian batting, his relationship with Ganguly and the Sehwag effect.
Did you expect things to pan out the way they did in the one-day series?
Because the wickets were as they were, if you didn’t bowl properly in the right areas to the likes of Sehwag and Sachin, you were going to get punished. The quality of the wickets was interesting. The other thing was the small boundaries at a couple of grounds – Christchurch and Auckland. The 3-1 scoreline wasn’t too surprising, given the momentum India have built over the last twelve months or so. They’ve got such strike power in the batting, it’s amazing.
How has this team come on?
I don’t think they have too much fear. I don’t think they worry too much about getting out, which is a great attitude. It’s probably a consequence of some of the Twenty20 cricket that’s being played. In the last game, obviously the series was already won. But if you’re a developing side, you’ve got to play a bit better than they did in the last game. They’re a good, exciting side. Yuvraj has really come on as a spinner, not just as a batter. He’s bowling a lot more consistently now and that gives the captain an extra option after Sehwag.
Would you say Sehwag being pushed to open the batting made his career?
I have a lot of time for him. It’s one thing to open in one-day cricket where it’s all in your favour. We started opening the batting with him in England, he made 80-odd at Trent Bridge on a really green one, then he goes to Australia and gets 190. To be able to make that transition is very special. It’s not just the quality of play but the mental aspect as well. He’s probably tempered his game a bit more from what I saw of him, but he’s just so destructive. Opposition bowlers end up thinking, ‘Where do I bowl at this guy?’ 15 Test hundreds, two of them triples, alone is testament to the fact that he’s truly a great player.
Is that something you thought when you saw him then?
Well, no. It’s the mental bit that you have to sort out there. Sunny Gavaskar always used to say that defensively, he is sound. The intensity of shot-making is so regular and so precise you think he can’t keep playing like that. Sometimes he’s playing on the edge of that envelope and you think he’s got to nick one sooner or later, and he just doesn’t. That’s the thrilling thing about watching Sehwag. Sometimes he plays an awful shot and gets out, but if he looks to play straight, everything happens from there. He has simplified batting.
He has even managed to snatch the spotlight away from Tendulkar, hasn’t he?
Sachin just loves the game. He hit so many balls at Lincoln when he arrived in New Zealand, and he wasn’t even playing the Twenty20. I looked at him and I thought everything was just right. He had the elbow problem for a bit when I was around but everything looks perfect now. He’s got his tuck back. And of course, the driving force for him will be the World Cup in India.
Would you say one of your successes is that the players don’t have a bad word for you?
It’s nice to know that. I always tried to be really honest. Occasionally, I could get really grumpy! I really cared about the team and about Indian cricket, and I still do because it’s so important to the people of India. Being the first foreigner, I was very determined. It was really the players who did it for you, because you want to be in the background, but I was really determined to do my very best, and make a good try at it. The players were fantastic.
How important was your equation with Ganguly?
Sourav and I were a great mixture. We are both Cancerians. We saw things a bit differently sometimes but together, the chemistry worked. There was Sourav who added that arrogance, that attitude of ‘I don’t care what anyone says’, and he wanted it to be a team. Then there was Adrian (le Roux), who got them fit, was clinical and a great back-up. Andrew (Leipus, the physio) did a fantastic job. I just tried to make sure that we worked really hard. Then you put the senior players around it, the Anils and the Sachins and they bought into it.
How do you see the current set up?
Hopefully now. Yuvi, Bhajji and Zaheer, now senior players themselves, they’ve taken it a step further. I think Gary’s (Kirsten) done a great job with Paddy (Upton), they’ve got the feel right. Just the fact that they’re getting out of the hotel rooms and doing different things, that’s something we never did. That’s a really good thing to do because it takes your mind off cricket and you get a break.
Is it fair to say that the team is reaping the rewards of a process started nine years back?
If people think that way, it’s really nice. It’s always a building block. What you need to do is take what you’ve got and take it a bit further. Then the next guy picks it up and moves it further on. Hopefully, you just keep getting better and better. The next thing is to have the stuff underneath so you’re constantly bringing in the next young player. That turnover is important. Yuvraj has got his opportunity now that Sourav’s gone. Someone else will get an opportunity when Rahul comes to the end of the road. You’ve got your reserve opener, the other quicks, that’s the important bit.
What are the challengers of being a selector here in New Zealand?
Probably the same as anywhere, it always gets down to the last two players. There’s a bit more process over here and I don’t think that’s particularly a good thing. I miss being in India where it was pretty clear, you just had to win. The Board and others didn’t really get too much involved so long as you were winning, and I loved that. The BCCI organised things and didn’t get in the way. Here, it’s a bit more complicated with players’ representatives and things like that. I’m a bit old-fashioned, really.