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The Wright perspective

He is a man not always sure about what he's 'supposed' to say. He speaks in measured tones, careful that he is not misunderstood and misquoted.

india Updated: Dec 21, 2003 01:41 IST

He is a man not always sure about what he's 'supposed' to say. He speaks in measured tones, careful that he is not misunderstood and misquoted. He is an outsider, who is trying to make a difference to Indian cricket.

He is aware that his job is difficult and his remarkable quality has been that for the three years he has been with the Indian team, he has not got involved in any controversy nor has be ruffled the ‘touchy’ feathers of the cricket establishment. Yet, he has been able to change a lot of things. He has changed the very attitude of the players -- the way they look at themselves and the way they perceive the outside world.

John Wright is a very sensitive man, a man who knew India and Indian cricket only from outside. And yet, in a short span, he has understood it so well that some say he’s “more Indian than an Indian”.

Sitting in the empty stands near the dressing room of Hobart's Bellerive Oval, Wright makes it clear that he does not want to talk about the series. “We have done well so far, but I am aware that the series could be lost, drawn or won. I don't want to say anything in the middle of the series.”

Fair enough. Then he makes a very significant point. “You see the problem with us is we get carried away with one win. We tend to lose focus. My job at the moment is to maintain the momentum we have gained. I want the boys to have their feet planted firmly on the ground. We have a long way to go,” he says. In the present day world of chest-thumping, aggressive assertion of one's point of view and achievements, Wright seems to be an anachronism, some one who avoids public glare and is happy doing the job he has taken up as a “great challenge”. “I was with Kent for four years. It was time for me to move. And when I got this opportunity I was thrilled. Cricket in India is big. And to coach an Indian team had to be a great challenge,” he says. Did he know what India would be like? Did he make an effort to understand the country before he took up the job?

“I did not know the country. I have played in India (he was New Zealand's captain) but I had an outsider's perspective.” For Wright, who did read a couple of books on Indian cricket, his strength was he came here with a fresh perspective and “did not come with any past baggage”. He had his first taste of India the day he arrived. “India were playing Zimbabwe in Delhi and I reached Delhi. For two days I was in my hotel room but no one got in touch with me. Some board (BCCI) official or the selectors were supposed to talk to me but finally it was Andrew Leipus (the team physio) who called. Leipus is a tremendous man, he was a great help. He has really done wonders with Indian cricket.”

So, here was Wright, a complete outsider, trying to figure out what Indian cricket is like and what all he should do to make a change for the better. Ravi Shastri was also a great help and Wright still carries his observations on what should be done to improve Indian cricket “in my diary”. Wright feels that the areas to be addressed were very obvious to everyone. “Fitness, running between the wickets, discipline and the values of being part of the team are things that I feel are most important.”

For Wright the significance of team spirit and what it means to be playing for the country are crucial. “I am very respectful of your fans and your country's culture. I think it is wonderful. The people here are good. I have seen more smiling faces in India than I have in Christchurch. Your team carries the hopes of a lot of people and they would love to have a team that wins. I feel they deserve a good team. For me what is most rewarding is when they stop you on the road and think you have done a good job. I salute them.”

All this is fine. But didn't he confront problems, for change is always resisted? We all thrive in status quo and the cricket board is a perfect example -- despite all pretensions of being a democratic body it is run like a feudal organisation.

“I always understood that I could be sacked anytime. I have never worried about my job, though I love it,” he says, and then has words of praise for Jagmohan Dalmiya, the BCCI president.

When Dalmiya came back as board president, he was under enormous pressure to sack the “foreigners”. It is a feeling and a sentiment Wright understands well. “I understand there is great pride in training your own team. I am a foreigner and I think it is a natural opinion that the Indians would want to have their own coach. Imagine All Blacks (the New Zealand rugby team) having an Indian as a coach! I understand these sentiments and respect them.”

Dalmiya called Wright and had a two-hour talk with him. Wright sent him a proposal that contained his vision for Indian cricket. “I don't want to discuss in public what all I wrote but Dalmiya was very receptive. And let me tell you, one of the proposals was to have a fitness trainer for the team. He agreed immediately.”

Wright believes fitness and discipline are the key to all problems. “A fit body will have a fit mind and unless you have trained hard it is always going to be difficult to think positively and to give proper expression to your skills.” He also believes that our emphasis should be on producing fast bowlers, have proper training programmes for them, as in international cricket quality fast bowling plays an important role in winning. “ I am not saying spin is not important and I always believe India will keep on producing quality spin bowlers.”

He feels that the seniors in the team -- Ganguly, Tendulkar, Dravid, Kumble, Laxman, Srinath -- have responded splendidly to what he had in mind and wants to give all credit to them for whatever change in attitude has taken place in the team. It is very difficult to get Wright to talk about what is wrong with Indian cricket overall and what all can be done to improve it. “I sympathise with the selectors. I understand the zonal pressures they face. I guess it is always difficult if you are voted to a job. It is better the selectors are appointed by the BCCI but I guess the governance of the BCCI is not all that easy,” is all you get from him.

Wright has been with the team for the last three years. So, what future does he see for himself in Indian cricket? “At the moment I don't want to think about anything more than this series. My complete focus is on the next Test. At the same time I do understand that in India even a day could be a long time. Even if we do very well here, my future will be very bleak if we lose to Pakistan. I understand all this.

“But in the end, what is more important is the difference I may have made to Indian cricket. There are a lot of changes I would like to see being made. But all of them are not in my control.”

The stern disciplinarian, the uncompromising coach on the field and a man who has grasped Indian cricket really well, at heart Wright is a simple man. He is also a troubled soul. He has been away from family and children for almost three years now and there is a price to pay for it. “I have two children and they miss me. Though the Indian hotels are fantastic, living day in and day out in them is not a good feeling. Let me tell you it is a very lonely job.”

First Published: Dec 21, 2003 01:00 IST