John Wright has done it the hard way

Lynn McConnell

October 20, 2000

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John Wright once declared in one of those pithy player profiles; best opponent, best movies, best records and that sort of thing, that he would most like to be a jet pilot.

Cricket may have got in his way sufficiently to prevent that happening, but there is no doubt his post-playing career has him flying high.

Wright, now four years into a coaching contract with English county Kent, will know within a few days whether he has been preferred to his rival, Australian great Greg Chappell, in the race to be coach of India.

It is an interesting reflection on the state of cricket that a country like India, with its huge playing base and selection pool, finds it needs to utilise the services of a foreign coach.

It was understandable that a relative minnow like New Zealand should look to Australia for a coach in Steve Rixon, and equally understandable that new boy on the block South Africa should look to someone like Bob Woolmer to steer its ship after coming back from isolation.

But India?

Whatever, Wright has already had the blessing of former Australian captain and coach Bobby Simpson for the job. Simpson has been an advisor to India for some years now and is aware of the thinking in the Indian game.

Wright has been a quiet achiever in cricket. Never one for the grandiose stance on matters of issue, or for distractions inside and outside the game.

His trademark, as a player was simple, knuckle down and do your job.

It was something that suited his personality perfectly.

Many an innings for New Zealand was held together by his resolution and pluck.

It is no coincidence that New Zealand's struggle to find batsmen at the top of the order has been an annual battle since Wright's retirement in 1993.

Bryan Young might have scored 267, Mark Greatbatch may have been tried in a bid to plug a hole, and Matthew Horne may have emerged as a potential successor to Wright.

But the simple fact of the matter is that in the 1980s, the sight of Wright and Bruce Edgar going out to bat was one of the more consistent images of the game. And when Edgar retired from international play, there was Trevor Franklin to step into Edgar's place and form an even more formidable combination.

Wright always sold his wicket dearly, and he exhibited a responsibility about his batting that was even more obvious when he took over the captaincy from Jeff Crowe part way through the home series with England in 1987/88.

As a player in the ranks Wright scored 4264 of his Test runs at an average of 35.83.

But with the leadership in his hands, Wright was a much tougher customer. His 1070 runs came at 48.63 and at one stage he scored three Test centuries in six innings, two against India and one against England.

There is a strong Indian connection to Wright's achievements. His first Test century was at India's expense during the summer of 1980/81. While as a captain his first Test win was at Bombay in 1988, when his off-spinner John Bracewell bowled beautifully to take 6-51 as India chased 282 for victory.

It was all out for 145 and New Zealand had a victory by 136 runs.

Then, in a match made famous as the occasion on which Richard Hadlee took his 400th Test wicket, Wright achieved his highest Test score of 185, at Lancaster Park.

A century followed in the rain-affected second Test in Napier, then a few weeks later, he unleashed the perfect captain's innings where his 117 not out took New Zealand to victory over Australia on the Basin Reserve.

His captaincy role finished when he was unavailable for the 1990 tour of Pakistan, but he returned to the side and carried on until the 1992-93 summer and finished his Test career as he had started it, in a winning team.

There are not many New Zealanders who can claim that.

But for Wright it was a journey that started at the Basin Reserve against England in 1978, the game in which New Zealand recorded its first Test win over England. Played in a northerly gale, Wright got a touch to the first ball of the game, bowled by Bob Willis, but the touch didn't register with the umpire and he was not out. He scored 55 in his first innings.

It was the first of four wins over England he was to take part in.

In his last Test, it was 33 in each innings, as New Zealand beat Australia by five wickets at Eden Park in Auckland. And it was the sixth time he had been on the winning side against New Zealand's most serious foe.

Wright was a loyal servant wherever he played. His career produced 25,073 runs at 42.35, including 59 centuries.

The measure of that can be seen in his liaison with his New Zealand provinces. He started out with Northern Districts when he couldn't get into his home Canterbury team. From 1975/76 to 1983/84, he scored 3301 runs at 40.75.

Returning to Canterbury, New Zealand commitments took over but in the one full season he was able to play with the side, in 1986/87, he scored 780 runs at 60.00. At the time it was a record in a season for Canterbury.

At Auckland, from 1989/90-1992/93, he scored 993 runs at 43.17.

Wright was the true professional. Not blessed with the flair and dash of some of his contemporaries, he worked hard at his game and squeezed the most out of it.

While others may have been more gifted, Wright was second to no one when it came to playing with his heart.

If India does opt for his coaching services, it can be assured its players will get the maximum of attention from a man who is not only a willing servant of the New Zealand game, but the game of cricket.

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