John Wright speaks December 24, 2004

'We never got any momentum going'

John Wright: 'I think there was a bit of a comfort zone' © Getty Images

John Wright has a permanently craggy, semi-dissatisfied look on his face. After several long, and often trying, years as coach of the Indian team, he has gained the respect of a nation that once blanched at the idea of appointing a foreign coach. Surely we could find a coach among a nation of billion, went the chorus. We couldn't get one like Wright, at least not one who could get as much out of the Indian team. Yet, there's every chance that he may be on the way out.

Wright looked back on the ups and downs in Indian cricket last year while speaking to Cricinfo. "I think the problem really was that we had that break of three months [after the Pakistan tour]. Though we had a camp the batters did not have any form this season. Our performances last year were built on outstanding batting performances so I think there was a bit of a comfort zone."

In many ways, the successes of the last season - a drawn series in Australia and a series win in Pakistan - got the expectations of the public and the media to an unmaintainable high. "You know sometimes success in India can be ... not quite an enemy," said Wright, searching for just the perfect words in his inimitable fashion. "But after the Pakistan tour there was a lot of celebration and perhaps we weren't as hungry as we had been, when we played the Asia Cup," he explained. "By then it was too late. We went to Holland, there was a lot of wet weather, the practice facilities were sub-standard. So we never got any momentum going. But that is in the one-day side."

Unusually for India though, while the form in the one-dayers has dipped, the results have not been so disappointing in the Tests. Though India lost at home to Australia - no disgrace - there was some semblance of form. "There have been signs that we were improving but it's probably picked up since Bombay [Test against Australia] really. That batting form that we had last year just wasn't there."

But Wright did not think it's impossible to regain the kind of form India had on the Pakistan and Australia tours. "Oh yeah, definitely it's not form, it's just momentum really. We had players who just weren't getting rhythm, and time in the middle and that can be difficult when you are solely playing a diet of one-day cricket. We pulled it back in Chennai, we played very well against Australia in Chennai. To be honest, there weren't easy batting conditions either in Nagpur or in Bombay. The fact that they were different, one was a green, seaming wicket and the other was a square turner didn't make it easy. That [form and momentum] will come, I don't have any problems, it's happening already.

"[Virender] Sehwag is in good nick, [Rahul] Dravid's got a hundred now, [VVS] Laxman played well in Bombay. Sourav was in reasonable form. The players are there and the class is there and I've never worried about it. It's just that we just haven't been at our best. "

And Wright was quick to point out, correctly, that even though India lost 1-2 to Australia, it could easily have been different. "We didn't do badly in that series either. We lost it and that will be judged accordingly but, to be honest, if we had some fine weather in Chennai and some co-operation in Nagpur, it could have been better," he said. "It wasn't that far away. We won the last Test in Bombay in interesting conditions and in Chennai, well, who's to know? If you look at that form in the last year we were the only side who has taken a Test of them (Australia) or even got close to them really. So, though we lost the series, I still say we can give Australia a run for their money."

But that said, there certainly were signs of rustiness in the one-day tournaments India has played since the season-opener, the Asia Cup. "I don't think we've played that good at one-day cricket in the last one year. We did reasonably in Pakistan but we just haven't been consistent in that part of the game since the World Cup," said Wright. "In the World Cup it all came together. I know that in big competitions it will come together. Generally our one-day performances are built around the batting, I don't think our fielding has been as good as it has been or even simple things like running between the wickets. We've got to up those areas a lot more."

'The players are there and the class is there. I've never worried about it. It's just that we just haven't been at our best' © AFP

But now with a win in the last Test against Australia, the series win against South Africa and a clean sweep against Bangladesh, India are building up a good head of steam ahead of Pakistan's arrival in February for three Tests and five one-dayers. "I don't think we are out of momentum. Our aim here is to go forward, win these matches [against Bangladesh]. We play Pakistan and we want to win both the Test and one-day series," he said. "We've dropped some matches to Pakistan, two of those games have been very close, we need to get that back and I'm confident that we will. Definitely."

But, Wright is not ready, yet, to talk about his aims, and whether he did or did not achieve them in his stint as India coach. "I will tell you that when I'm finished," said Wright. "There are a lot of objectives you have in mind. But there are sometimes issues that don't help you achieve them but anyway that's part of the job. So I will be judged when I finish my term really.

"My contract goes till the end of May [2005] so people will judge me on whatever; they can judge me on whatever they like."

In the course of his journey with the Indian team, he has had to deal with difficult characters, stubborn board officials, and a system that was simply alien to transparency and positive change. Yet, Wright is not one to moan. He is constantly hounded by the media, and the nation's expectations are often unrealistic. Steve Waugh recently remarked that four years was about the right length of time for someone to be captain of a high-profile team, because the job took so much out of you. Is four years about the right timespan for a coach? "Those are the sort of things that myself and the board will review when I come to the end of my contract. That's something that I will think about and no doubt the board will think about at the end of the next term. You cross those bridges when you come to them. I know when I first took over the job a lot of people were saying 'he won't last six months'."

Well, Wright has not just outlasted six months but he has done so in such a manner that it's now becoming difficult to find the right man to replace him, if and when he chooses to give it up.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo.