Damien Wright cites Saker as coaching mentor
Damien Wright wants to bring a David Saker-style approach to his new job after being confirmed as New Zealand's bowling coach. Wright has been handed a two-year deal and will be working with a talented group of young fast bowlers, including Tim Southee, Hamish Bennett and Adam Milne, as New Zealand aim to lift themselves from eighth on the ICC Test rankings.
The appointment of the Wright followed the departure of the previous bowling mentor Allan Donald, and completes the coaching setup along with the head coach John Wright and assistant Trent Woodhill. It is a supreme vote of confidence in the Australian Wright, 35, who was still playing first-class cricket himself until two months ago.
However, Wright has played a mentoring role with Victoria's young fast men over the past three summers, while he remained part of the state's attack. He said he had learnt a lot from Victoria's former bowling coach, Saker, who was a team-mate of Wright's during their time in Tasmania and became the bowling mentor who helped England retain the Ashes last season.
"Sakes has had a lot to do with me over the years," Wright told ESPNcricinfo. "He's been terrific in the sense that I wanted to coach the way he did and bowl the way he did. Both David and I aren't particularly great on the computer, although we've certainly learnt to do that. We're more the types to get our hands dirty and get out there with the boys.
"I'm really about getting the best out of the athlete. It's about trying to make sure everything is in position technically, and the game sense is important as well for me. I like to get into the guys' heads about how you're feeling in a crucial moment when the batsman's on top of you and what to do then. A lot of young blokes come through the system and I've had 15 years of playing, so I can pass that on."
Wright starts his new job in September and he is confident he can help them find the winning mentality that has sometimes been lacking in New Zealand, and which the new captain Ross Taylor is keen to instil. Success is a known quantity for Wright, who was one of the stars of Tasmania's inaugural Pura Cup triumph in 2006-07 and went on two win two more first-class titles with Victoria.
"I see New Zealand as like Tasmania - they have a smaller population and you've really got to get everyone working towards that one ultimate goal," he said. "I saw Tasmania turn it around in my time there and now they're a real force in Australian cricket. It doesn't come easy and there's a lot of hard work that has been put into that. It's the same with New Zealand. We're not asking for miracles here, but we certainly want to get the best out of the players and make sure they climb up that ICC ladder."
Wright will be walking into a setup where the spearhead, Chris Martin, is 36, and plenty will be expected of the younger fast bowlers in the next few years. He said working with a talented swing bowler like Southee would be enjoyable, but there was more talent beyond the current crop of first-choice New Zealand bowlers.
"Southee is one of the real talents in the team," Wright said. "He's been a fantastic bowler once he's burst on to the scene. He's someone I'm really excited about doing some work with. But there are some other young guys. Adam Milne bowls pretty fast, there's Ben Wheeler, there's Hamish Bennett who's 24 and who we've seen a little bit of. Then there's young Doug Bracewell as well, who I saw at the Champions League. He's a strong kid who can bowl at decent pace."
And whoever gets the job in the Test team later this year, Wright is confident he can help them with some inside knowledge of Australia's batsmen. The Australians host New Zealand for two Tests in early December, and they will have on their side John Buchanan, the former Australia coach who is now New Zealand's director of cricket, and Wright, who has played at the elite level in Australia since 1997-98.
"It's going to help," Wright said. "I know most of the boys pretty well. It'll also be little things like how well I know the conditions in Australia having played here for so long, things like making sure the Kookaburra swings all day. Those sort of things will be crucial. We've seen what David Saker did with England during the Ashes, so if I can do a job similar to him I'll be very happy."
The Test series will be followed by a month-long break for New Zealand's international side, and Wright has been given permission to work with the Melbourne Stars during Australia's Big Bash League in late December and early January.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo