'Passionate, demanding, funny, and a friend'
Indian cricket will move on after John Wright, but he'll always be special. Not only was he India's first professional coach, his considerable success has made sure that he will not be the last. In most parts of the world, that's not such a big thing; for India, it's a huge leap. Enough has been written about what Wright brought to Indian cricket. Here's an inside view on what he meant to the Indian team.
This happened at The Oval during the NatWest Trophy. John had been talking to us about how Viru was batting really well, playing great shots, but also playing silly shots and getting out. That was getting to John. He said to me, "If that guy gets out to one more bad shot, I'm going to really have a go at him." In the next match Viru went out and played a silly shot and got out. And when he walked back into the dressing room, John actually grabbed him by the collar and shook him. It created a bit of a stir in the dressing room. The thing was the incident was quickly forgotten and neither Viru nor anyone else took offense. We knew how badly he wanted Viru and the team to do well. We knew it frustrated him when people did not play up to their potential. It was an incident that showed us just how badly he wanted us to win. There were absolutely no hard feelings after the incident, and perhaps he and Viru got on much better after that, if anything.
Our culture teaches us to respect our elders and with someone like a coach you need to be particular about your behaviour. But with John it was different: he was more of a friend. We could laugh at him, plays pranks. But he was also a thorough professional, very demanding and very passionate about what he did.
More than anything, he was very good at understanding the character of a player. When people doubted my abilities, John was aware of my mental strengths and never talked about altering my batting technique. In fact, on playing days our interaction was minimal. He has a back problem and he knows that my mom has a bad back too. On match days he would ask me, "How are you? How's your mom's back? How are we going to play today?"
I will never forget one thing he told us: the difference between a good player and a great player is performance. Great ones perform consistently and good ones do it off and on. And I will miss looking at John's face when somebody plays a bad shot during a tight match. It was something.
I can remember many instances about John that showed just how hardworking and committed he was. None of us had seen a professional like this - he worked harder than the players sometimes, never wasting a minute, always thinking about what had to be done. But the incident that I will always remember is a funny one. It happened in Pakistan, after the one-day international in which I had gone out to bat low down the order and somehow thrashed a six off Shoaib Akhtar. In that game my bat broke. When I came back to the dressing room, I saw that John had written on the bat with a permanent marker, "The next black Bradman!" Then everyone in the team wrote something on the bat as well. People always say John was very serious, but many don't know that he had a great sense of humour.
We met at a time when both of us were struggling in different ways. He was trying to prove himself as a coach and I was trying to make a comeback and prove people wrong about the image I was carrying. Sourav Ganguly introduced me to John in November 2000. Just before the 2001 Australian home series, when selectors didn't have enough faith in me - people were still pointing fingers at me, saying I was arrogant, after I was dropped from the National Cricket Academy - John used to tell me every day, "You are too good a bowler." And once I was picked for the Australia tour, during the preparation camp in Chennai, he drew a rectangular box in the nets and made me bowl in it hour after hour, day after day, to perfect my line and length. I used to jokingly enquire, "What if Michael Slater puts his feet in this box?" The hard work paid off and I ended up taking 32 wickets in that series. I scored the winning runs of that series and it was very emotional the way John hugged me. He had tears in his eyes and we both knew that we had proved our points.
He knew where and when to rub it in to get the best out of a player. He knew I am the sort of player who needs to be pinched at times to do well. Not many people know about his excellent sense of humour and his ability to laugh at himself. I will miss watching him work. He had the look of a person who had to go somewhere urgently and had lost his car keys.
Subramanian Ramakrishan Team analyst
In Australia last year, which was my first tour overseas with the team, I was working late nights, putting together statistics and things like that. We reached the final of the VB Series, and I was looking at past stats to see what could make India win. Then, on the morning before the game, John told me, "Don't show any statistics, just show visuals." I didn't have any visuals that could motivate or create an impact. He told me to start with some of our great moments, and end with the VB Series. I had no audio to go with the clippings I had, and I told John it wouldn't make much of an impact like that. He would not take no for an answer, and gave me two hours to come up with something. I had doubts about being able to get it done. John asked me, "Do you want your team to win?" I said I did, and he said, "Then you produce a winning effort." I had no choice but to call ESPN and get some visuals from them. I went to their cabin, sat there, edited and put together a movie of our winning moments. At the end, when the movie was done, John made me find a suitable room to screen it, with good speakers and that sort of thing. The team watched the video, and really appreciated it. What was important was that John pushes you to give that extra 10 per cent - whether you are one of his players or one of the support staff. He made us be tough on ourselves.
John had grasped very early that there was a gap between the junior and senior players in the squad. And he cleverly managed to erase that in his own quiet way. He realised that fielding was the area in which India needed to improve most. He used to keep a chart where he would give points to various players based on their showing in the field. Obviously there would be things that would have to be pointed out, no matter who the culprit in the field was; but it wasn't easy for a newcomer to point out that a senior could have saved runs. But John used to speak to the youngster and ask him where he thought we could have saved runs. That opinion would then be used during team meetings. That way there would be no ego clashes and the youngster, too, would get the confidence that his team had faith in him. I will miss his never-say-die attitude. If we lost a game, he would be angry and not speak to us that evening, but the next morning he would start afresh.