Has Wright bowled a wrong ’un? With melodramatic accounts surfacing of the former Indian coach collaring Veeru Sehwag in a moment of pique, speculation about the coach’s people skills has peaked.
This is a sea change from the way the selectors and the players perceived John Wright during his tenure, just before Greg Chappell took over last year. Then, he was the guitar-playing, mild mannered Guru Cool who couldn’t put a step wrong. At the height of Wright’s honeymoon with the team, he was hailed as the architect of India’s transformation from toothless tigers to world-beaters. After bits from Indian Summers, co-authored by India Today Deputy Editor Sharda Ugra and Kiwi journalist Paul Thomas, began to appear in desi newspapers, the legion of his detractors found voice. For those not clued into what the coach had written: he had lost his cool and barked on Sehwag after he threw away his wicket in a NatWest trophy match against Sri Lanka.
Reactions to the book range from the reasonable to the bizarre. While former selector V B Chandrashekhar said Wright had a right to say what he feels about the selection process, Wisden Indian cricketer of the century Kapil Dev asked: “Who is John Wright? I haven’t read the book and have no intention to read it either.”
And that is half the problem. None of his critics has bothered to wait for the release of the book before shooting their mouths off.
BCCI’s Rajiv Shukla, the manager at that time and present at the now-historic ‘shaking down’, gives his account. His take? Wright did it out of affection for Sehwag. “He had been telling Veeru not to lift the ball and he did exactly that to get out at the Oval. I was sitting in the balcony when Sourav Ganguly came out and said Sehwag was crying as Wright had manhandled him. I immediately went to the players’ area and saw he was in tears. Sourav announced that John should apologise to Veeru in front of the team. I consulted Sachin and he said it would dilute Wright’s authority as coach. Sehwag was very sensible on the entire matter. The team returned to the hotel and Wright spoke to Veeru in his room. The two went on to share a great rapport afterward.”
As for Wright, the man in the eye of the storm? He was busy building a fence at his farm in Christchurch, when HT caught up with him. “It’s been a bitterly cold winter in New Zealand this year.” Tell him that his book, even before its India release, is generating a lot of heat back in Delhi and Wright breaks into laughter. “It has got good feedback in New Zealand and I hope everybody who reads the book enjoys it. It is an honest account of my stay in the country. People don’t realise the enormity of the passion and the involvement of the Indian people with their cricket team. Having read the book in New Zealand, many Kiwis actually want to visit India to watch cricket. I would not like to comment on individual players though,” he adds.
After a bit of persuasion, Johnnie, as the Boys in Blue called him in better times, agrees to talk about Sehwag. “Veeru has the stature to be a great player and I enjoyed working with him. I wish him well. When people actually read the book they will realise the controversial parts are only a small part of an honest book. Coaching India is not a bed of roses. People have opinions on coaches and how coaches should function. You do your best and hope the team will succeed. That goes for any coach.”
Selection on parochial lines is another controversial issue that has evoked a lot of sentiments. Wright says he has always voiced them. And although the coach is part of selection meetings, he doesn’t have a vote. “My views on selection may be controversial, but I was always open about them. I am not sure whether they were respected though,” he says.
There’s no mincing of words, rancor or spite. Just Wright — the way Johnnie likes it.