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November 18, 2002
It is now two years since John Geoffrey Wright took over as the first foreign coach of the Indian team. The inaugural Test against Bangladesh in Dhaka in November 2000 was Anshuman Gaekwad's last assignment in the stop-gap arrangement following Kapil Dev's resignation and when the team came back to take on Zimbabwe at home, Wright was in charge.
As a player, Wright was a no-nonsense cricketer who put efficiency above flair and served the cause of New Zealand cricket admirably in the period 1977-1992. His figures of 82 Tests, 5334 runs, 12 hundreds, highest score 185, average 37.82 aptly convey his approach to the game. It is interesting to note that he had a particular good record against India, notching up three Test hundreds against them. His aggregate and number of hundreds were a record till the more gifted Martin Crowe surpassed them.
During his long career as opening batsman and captain, Wright was a deep thinker of the game. A hardcore theoretician, he used to analyse various aspects of the game from all angles and brought this systematic approach to his successful tenure as coach of the Kent team in the English county championship. There was no reason to believe that he would change the attitude when he took over as coach of the Indian team.
Two things must never be forgotten. One, Wright earned the job in the face of competition from some big names in the game. Secondly, when he took over, there was resentment in some quarters. After all, an Indian had always been the coach of the national squad and questions were openly asked about his credentials for the job. It is to Wright's credit that he surmounted this initial problem with his inimitable qualities - a soft-spoken, direct, no-nonsense approach together with his trademark impeccable behaviour that could not fail to win admiration (After all, did not Wisden editor Matthew Engel note on Wright's retirement that he had `the most beautiful manners of his generation'?).
Soon, Wright won over his detractors by producing results. After all, that's the first aspect anyone looks at when it comes to analysing a captain, manager or coach. Let us then take a quick look at the overall record of the Indian team since November 2000.
India has played 29 Tests, won 12, lost nine and drawn eight. While the long awaited overseas series victory has still proved to be elusive, the team has registered four away wins in Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, West Indies and England. A shared series in England, where India have won only two and lost 11 such contests, is a record not to be scoffed at.
In addition, there is the unforgettable NatWest Trophy triumph that would figure in anyone's list just behind the World Cup win in 1983 and the World Championship of Cricket victory two years later, as well as the sharing of the ICC Champions Trophy with Sri Lanka. Over and above everything, the list of achievements is headed by inarguably India's greatest triumph in a home Test series against the all-conquering Australians last year.
Yes, there have been reverses. The failure to clinch a series victory in Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, the defeat in the West Indies this year and the 2-0 loss in South Africa last year. But it looks like the irritating habit of faltering at the final hurdle in one-day competitions is a thing of the past as events in the NatWest Trophy and the Champions Trophy have proved. Also, Wright has been responsible for making the Indians mentally tougher and for instilling a sense of self-belief in them.
Overall, there has been an undoubted upswing in the fortunes of Indian cricket over the last two years. Sure, there is room for improvement still, notably in matters of ground fielding, catching and running between wickets. But these are inherent weaknesses that will not go away overnight. In any case, it is good to know that Wright will be around till at least the World Cup and that is a comforting thought.
How much credit then does Wright deserve for all the achievements? In my opinion, quite a bit, though, he has not been given the accolades he deserves. The 48-year-old affable Indian coach and his laptop are now a familiar sight at cricket grounds all over the world. He is obviously a deep thinker of the finer points of the game. Most important, he has struck an excellent working relationship with Ganguly and Dravid.
If Wright is a hardcore theoretician, Ganguly can be pretty intuitive. Emotional by nature, Ganguly's bowling changes and field placements can be pretty puzzling at times and one is sure that the steadying hand of Wright is a sobering influence. If on the field Dravid provides the picture of calm, off the field it is Wright who is the symbol of equanimity. The trio make for an exemplary think tank and the players are in good hands with such a team management.
One is sure that Wright has had a major hand in the recent experiments being carried out in the team composition. He is aware that while the Indian side is a very good one, there are still certain lacunae that have to be plugged if it is to emerge as a serious challenger for the World Cup. To that extent he is willing to try out various combinations and permutations that he hopes will benefit the team in the long run. Keep up the good work, Mr `Right' and more strength to your think pad!
Graeme Smith was the last of South Africa's old guard. The roots of the new one need to grow deeper