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Buchanan appointment the beginning of the end

Wright the pragmatist wanted more control over selection than Buchanan the analyst but NZC decided the former was more expendable

Andrew Alderson

May 1, 2012

Comments: 38 | Text size: A | A

John Wright announces his decision to step down as New Zealand coach, Lincoln, May 1, 2012
John Wright has announced that he will not be renewing his contract as New Zealand coach © Getty Images
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You don't get a second chance to make a first impression. John Wright's face appeared equal parts incredulity and apprehension last March, when told New Zealand Cricket was seeking a new director of cricket. Wright had been casually informed by New Zealand's three-person 2011 World Cup media contingent in the palatial lobby of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel on Mumbai's waterfront.

The fact two-time World Cup winning coach John Buchanan was appointed several weeks later is less relevant than the wider scope of the role: Wright would have a new direct boss and the autonomy he so desperately sought as head coach would inevitably be compromised. Perhaps Buchanan's appointment was the beginning of the end. Wright's decision to step down as coach of the New Zealand team after the upcoming West Indies tour - a stint of just over 19 months - has been a tale of two coaches, two contracts and two cricket philosophies. Wright might have beaten Buchanan 2-1 as the respective coaches of India and Australia in 2001 during one of the greatest Test series in history but Buchanan has wrestled one back.

Wright wanted the NZC board and chief executive David White to reduce Buchanan's powers. He didn't get it. As someone who has achieved plenty as a player and coach before taking on the New Zealand role, Wright consequently decided there was more to life, especially given the expectation he would sign until the end of the 2015 World Cup. If the 57-year-old had stayed in the role he faced numerous intense tours over the next three years. It's understood Wright did not demand a salary increase and was happy to concede more administrative responsibility to manager Mike Sandle but, in return, wanted absolute power over the coaching and selection of the team.

The "positive tension" oxymoron White previously spoke about between Wright and Buchanan was at the core of the problem. Wright is a pragmatist, Buchanan is an analyst. Both have been successful international coaches before joining NZC. Yet less Buchanan influence around the selection table became a non-negotiable for Wright.

It placed NZC in a difficult position. It could accept Wright's position and avoid the awkwardness of a public hero stepping aside prematurely. The downside (in the board's eyes) would be reducing Buchanan's control, or, given the pair might struggle to work together, paying Buchanan off. In tough economic times Wright was more expendable, given his contract finished after the West Indies tour. Likewise, if Wright wanted to adjust his staffing situation, which included three Australians - Kim Littlejohn (selection manager), Trent Woodhill (assistant coach) and Damien Wright (bowling coach) - it would potentially require more 'money-for-nothing' pay-outs. NZC's hand was forced.

An endorsement of Wright's tenure was not helped at board level by perceived inadequacies in his communication skills. The board was initially believed to have given White carte blanche to secure Wright's signature. However, its outlook became less generous over time. Concerns were raised that, regardless of inspirational dressing room talks, Wright could not afford to cut corners in the modern cricketing environment and needed to communicate more clearly with players and management outside the shed. One example had Wright adamant players should not have to fill out a substantial 2011-12 season review document. Wright preferred an old-school "sit down with a beer at the bar" approach to counselling players.

Wright was also disappointed NZC failed to appoint former Otago coach Mike Hesson - now in charge of Kenya - to either the selection manager or team manager roles eventually secured by former Bowls Australia high performance manager Littlejohn and ex-Blues rugby manager Sandle respectively.

Sadly Wright's decision means New Zealand cricket fans got only a fleeting glimpse of what might have been possible. Unless something spectacular occurs in the West Indies his tenure will forever be marked with a tentative "showed promise". Under Wright, New Zealand secured the country's first semi-finals spot in a World Cup on the subcontinent (after 11 straight ODI losses in that part of the world at the start of the tournament). They followed that with their first Test win in 18 years against Australia and added further Test wins, home and away, against Zimbabwe. No silverware was earned against South Africa but - the second Test aside - there were signs the team could at least compete for sustained periods. Wright also proved a masterful selector at times, based on form (Mark Gillespie, Dean Brownlie and Kruger van Wyk) and intuition (Doug Bracewell and BJ Watling).

 
 
"The 'positive tension' oxymoron between Wright and Buchanan was at the core of the problem"
 

After four years with NZC in various capacities, Wright can presumably return to short-term contracts, perhaps with English and Indian teams, while spending further time on his Canterbury farm.

The non-renewal of Wright's contract means the coaching position remains a poisoned chalice. Since John Bracewell resigned in 2008 the reins have been held in various capacities by Andy Moles, Mark Greatbatch, Roger Mortimer and Wright. The team won't slide back to square one but Wright's exit means they have lost valuable kudos in the public perception stakes. The former skipper is forever etched in the nation's memory through cricketing achievements, including his famed prolonged and painful exits from the batting crease. When Wright was dismissed the cricketing nation grieved with him, as they do now.

Few obvious replacements spring to mind. Chennai Super Kings coach and former New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming, Kenya's Hesson, Northern Districts coach Grant Bradburn, Wellington and former Bangladesh coach Jamie Siddons and even Lancashire and former England coach Peter Moores have been touted as possible successors, provided they can get out of their current contracts.

As New Zealand's most successful Test leader and with an IPL title as a coach, Fleming would be the preferred choice. Convincing him to step into the full-time role and away from his young family, multitude of business interests and Chennai coaching cameo would require serious levels of persuasion, patriotism and cash.

Hesson seems suitable but, given he was overlooked for the team manager and selection manager roles, he might not be top of the recruitment list. He also needs to be bought out of his Kenya contract.

Bradburn ideally needs to serve a couple more seasons in charge of Northern Districts, despite securing his second Plunket Shield title in three years this season. Bradburn is a consummate professional with Test experience and a proven capability for bringing through fledgling talent.

Siddons has international coaching experience but the creation of a fully Australian management panel (Sandle excepted) seems a risky public relations exercise in the current fragile environment. Moores would be a wildcard, although his name has been bandied in local cricket circles after his stint with England ended prematurely courtesy of a disagreement with then-captain Kevin Pietersen.

Andrew Alderson is cricket writer at New Zealand's Herald on Sunday

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Posted by   on (May 3, 2012, 5:45 GMT)

Lets face it NZC are a bunch of total muppits. So Ive been hearing that wrights planning and paper work wernt up to scratch , well you apoint a team manager for that and let wright coach. What you dont do is appoint what was a fearce adversary in the past and make him Wrights boss. What the hell ?? Totally unaccpetible and we also have a lawn bowls expert in the mix , another aussie. The whole thing is a joke. The appointment of Buchanan was a joke. We lost a great coach. NZC boad are total muppits , and stuff the lot of them.

Posted by Saif_I_Khan on (May 3, 2012, 2:26 GMT)

John wright would be a good choice for Bangladesh as he understands sub-continental mind frame lot better than others. However, Richard McInnes is the guy who developed the current bunch of people in BD team as high performance coach. I would like him to be back in Bangladesh with some influential role, may be to develop other new talents....... on main topic, I think comparing Buchanan with Wright is an insult to cricket coaching itself. Coach shouldn't only be judged by its success...Whatmore had limited success with BD- that doesn't make him a bad coach. It is important how a coach utilizes his available potential resources and thus develop a better performing unit. We all know what Buchanan did with bunch of stars of KKR.

Posted by Ruhel_Moscow on (May 2, 2012, 12:00 GMT)

Please J.Wright come to Bangladesh))We will be very happy)

Posted by Clyde on (May 2, 2012, 10:31 GMT)

With the phrase 'director of cricket' I suppose almost all cricket fans would feel the game had been taken away from them. First of all, they would wonder what a 'director of cricket' did. They would know the school or district coach, who was someone they were always going to do better than and someone they were not going to take much notice of. But is a 'director of cricket' like the headmaster, or the mayor, or what? Now, I suggest the journalists try to make Mr Buchanan interesting by describing in Cardusesque terms his style and character. Before we can be sympathetic, Mr Buchanan needs to have his challenges laid bare, as has been done with Jesse Ryder.

Posted by regofpicton on (May 2, 2012, 10:18 GMT)

So the idea is to get John Wright cheap as a part-timer? Because obviously no-one else will want him and its a buyer's market? Good luck with that!

Posted by criexpert on (May 2, 2012, 10:17 GMT)

Buchanan is a world cup winning coach.. But answer this with the austrailian side of that time. Hayden,gilchrist,ponting shane warne,mcgrath,lee gillespie ,symmonds and many more.. which coach would not have won? You should check comments by warne and symonds about this guy. He is a complete XL coach. More like IT company manger. I think Wright deserves more. He is an excellent coach. He makes good strategic decisions like sending laxman in at 3 in famous kolkata test as he was only one in form in first innings. While in same situation Buchanan would have send struggling dravid only as in XL he ll find dravid's average better than laxman. My point is coach should be open not closed like books where only previous data is entered.

Posted by Simoc on (May 2, 2012, 10:14 GMT)

Cricket coaches are way over rated. The captain is the most important person. In all football codes the coach is the most important. Buchanan has an outstanding record as do most coaches with all the best players eg Graham Henry (but he and the team still choked in the final). Imagine how many runs Bradman could have scored with a batting coach, a lot less probably.There have been more low scoring test innings recently than I can ever remember.

Posted by StevieS on (May 2, 2012, 9:05 GMT)

Justin Vaughan just keeps on giving! I don't think there has ever been a player, coach or someone in managemnent that has done more damage to NZC than Vaughan.

Posted by Woodsy71 on (May 2, 2012, 5:51 GMT)

Just give the job to Graham Henry. He knows how to win a World Cup.

Posted by mumbaiguy79 on (May 2, 2012, 5:14 GMT)

It's beyond me why NZC would go with Buchanan who is not even needed back in Australia.

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