Crack that whip, John

The Indian coach should start asserting himself, says Sanjay Manjrekar

Sanjay Manjrekar
Sanjay Manjrekar
It's normal practice to take stock of the gains after every series. There have been quite a few in this series: all England's. The England team came here with zero Test experience in Indian conditions and with predictions of a brownwash ringing in their ears. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, they ended up enjoying the upper hand in two of the three Tests. India have won the series 1-0, but it was Sourav Ganguly, not Nasser Hussain, who wore a worried look at Bangalore.
The Indian reaction to such setbacks is predictable: sack the captain and bring about drastic changes in the team. Ganguly survived the South African disaster, but, barring Javagal Srinath, the entire pace attack was fired. Did it help? Obviously not.
If they had to decide now, the selectors would find it quite tempting to sack Ganguly this time: he has struggled to put bat to ball and his team has performed below par. The scene is ripe for a change at the top.
But to assume that everything can be set right at one stroke is both naïve and simplistic. Further, the alternatives aren't really exciting. Rahul Dravid's captaincy debut, even though it was only an unofficial Test, was undistinguished, and we have seen enough of Sachin Tendulkar's captaincy not to want him back. With the one-day series to follow, it isn't difficult to imagine the ball finding the middle of Ganguly's bat again, and with an improved performance from the team, he could well survive.
But really, Indian cricket's ailment can't be cured by chopping or changing the team. In fact, it might end up exacerbating the situation.
The one person who can make the big difference is John Wright. Wright had to undergo some serious grilling by the BCCI after the first Test. Having done that, the board should work towards restoring his confidence. He should be made to feel part of the inner circle - the team, the selectors, the board officials and a few committed ex-cricketers.
Wright is honest, hardworking and committed. But I feel he is not assertive enough. This is where he needs help. To add to his poor batting form, Ganguly's captaincy in the India-England series was disappointing and so was his fielding which has nose-dived over the last year. When I?travelled with the Indian team during the last series, I?did not once see him put in extra effort to improve his fielding.
From the team point of view, it would have been ideal to have Rahul Dravid open the batting in South Africa. I believe Dravid has the technique and the ability, but not the willingness; the team management unwisely respected his personal preferences over team interests.
These two instances are enough to make me believe that Wright does not crack the whip with the senior players in the side.
Wright is a far better coach than Ajit Wadekar, but he could learn a few lessons in assertiveness from Wadekar, who had his finger on the pulse of the team and knew which buttons to press. Soon after taking charge, the first lash of the whip fell on the senior-most member of the team who wasn't the most enthusiastic participant in the nets. The rest of the team promptly fell in line. And when Wadekar realised that he did not have the greatest captain alongside him, he slowly started taking control of most things. Occasionally, he even dictated bowling changes and field placements.
Most coaches are averse to such a proactive role in the belief that the captain is the boss of the team and that the coach should only lend a helping hand. Fine logic if you have a Steve Waugh in command.
Ganguly has only five years of experience at the highest level of cricket and that's not enough for a captain, unless one is a naturally gifted leader. Ganguly needs all the advice and support he can get, even with on-field strategies. With all his experience, Wright should provide it.
Ganguly has the right personality to lead India. It's refreshing to have a captain who is unafraid to speak his mind. But that alone can't win India matches. That's why Wright has to start playing a bigger role.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. @sanjaymanjrekar