'We played as hard as we could' - Wright
New Zealand coach John Wright has said his team was past its barren run preceding the World Cup, and its semi-final showing had proved that, "we can beat anyone". In an interview with ESPNcricinfo, Wright said the World Cup had helped both the morale and the belief of a team that last year had a 14-match ODI streak without a win. New Zealand was the only team from outside the subcontinent to make it to the World Cup semi-finals, ahead of four-time champions Australia and in-form South Africa.
"Losing the semi-final was bitterly disappointing but I hope the team has learnt," Wright said. "I think it has grown. What's important is that we just played as hard as we could with what we had, with the resources we had."
Wright took charge of the team two months before the World Cup, and oversaw Test and ODI series losses against Pakistan before the turnaround. He said his happiest time at the World Cup was "seeing a team start to believe in themselves and in each other. The fight they showed tells you the team can get better. We have the opportunities at this stage to get better."
Speaking last week, before the appointment of John Buchanan as New Zealand's Director of Cricket, Wright did not comment on his choice for the captaincy, or whether he has been given a say in selection matters. "The sooner all this is sorted the better, so the team can move forward and plan for the cricket ahead," Wright said, about the upcoming overhaul of the selection panel. New Zealand will travel to Australia and host South Africa next season, in addition to series against Zimbabwe and West Indies in early 2012.
Wright's two-year stint as the NZC's high performance manager has brought him in contact with the next generation of New Zealand cricketers. "We have got maybe five or six kids that really show a lot of potential," he said. "I have been really impressed with some of the talent I have seen in the last couple of years in under-17 and under-19 tournaments. I know that as long as we can put a playing programme in place that challenges the guys coming through and bridges the gap between first-class and international cricket, the ones that really want to make it, we could hopefully hold our own."
Among New Zealand's next generation, Wright pointed out that Kane Williamson had become part of the set-up and that seamer Adam Milne had also broken into the senior side. Wright said that, "as long as the administration makes the right cricketing decisions," there was no reason for New Zealand to worry about the public turning away from cricket. He believed the advent of the IPL, and pay packets of a scale beyond New Zealand cricket's capacity, could stimulate interest in the game.
Wright said creating competitive playing opportunities for New Zealand's next line should be a key focus area going forward. "One of the things I learnt in India is that you are so dependent on the bit that goes on underneath the national team ... In India, regular A-team touring made a lot of difference. It creates heat on the incumbents, which is good because you don't want comfort zones. Then again, the selection has to be very accurate and ruthless and you have to have succession planning."
Wright didn't believe too many cricketing countries got their succession systems quite right. "You have to be thinking a year ahead at least, that doesn't mean you're changing the team now but you know you have to. You can't stand still."
Until December, when his tenure began, NZC's distancing from Wright bordered on the inexplicable. It was commonly blamed on the influence exerted by the players' association over decision-making until the results started to go completely pear-shaped. When asked for his views on New Zealand's player power, Wright's reply was deadpan. "I'm all for player power, particularly if it's on the field," he said.
Wright said he had enjoyed working with Daniel Vettori, who at one stage, was both captain and selector. "Dan's been great to work with and we have got to know each other," he said. "Dan tried to lead with performance on the field and he achieved that."
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo