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Chennai: John Wright is here to watch and guide the New Zealand ‘A’ cricketers in the upcoming Buchi Babu tournament. Apart from being a selector, the affable Kiwi also heads an elite panel of coaches in his country.
The former left-handed opener — Wright has 5334 runs in 82 Tests at 37.82 with 12 hundreds — had coached the Indian team with distinction.
The 55-year-old Wright spoke to The Hindu on Friday on a variety of subjects.
Q. You and Sourav Ganguly formed an immensely successful captain-coach partnership. What made the combination work?
A. We had our differences and had different opinions. These were strong opinions too. But at the end of the day, we trusted each other. He was good with the young boys and gave the side aggression. We shared a common goal.
I was very impressed in the manner he staged a comeback and went out on his own terms. Ganguly showed he was a fighter. I still keep in touch with him.
Q. There are reports that you could be the next coach of the Kolkata Knight Riders…
A. Yes, they have been talking to me. Let’s see how it goes. One day I would love to come back to India.
Q. Your man-management skills are still remembered here. You could get the best out of players…
A. I was never a ‘soft’ coach. I used to push the players hard during the practice sessions. But I also understood that each player was different and needed to be handled differently.
Q. There is a feeling that the cash-rich Twenty20 tournaments could dilute a youngster’s passion to play for the country…
A. If you are playing for money then you are playing for the wrong reason. If you put the country and team first, money will follow.
Q. Do you believe that we are producing better athletes — not necessarily better players — these days?
A. Colin Cowdrey once told me that if you train physically for an hour, you should spend three hours at the nets. The skills are extremely important. Someone could be fit enough to go for the Olympics but he should be able to bat or bowl.
Q. Could the abbreviated forms of the game adversely impact the technique of a budding cricketer?
A. In New Zealand, players have suffered because of too much one-day cricket. Fast bowlers have turned fast medium bowlers, wrist spinners have become finger spinners and batsmen are not making hundreds. It’s hard to groom players in the shorter format, where there is pressure on time. It’s important that you play the three-day matches and work on the fundamentals.
Once you understand your game and the meaning of consistency, you can deliver in all forms of cricket.
Q. Is there any cricketer from your days as coach who has the potential to reach greater heights?
A. I hope Yuvraj Singh gets an extended run in Tests. It pained me to see him missing out on Tests during my tenure.
He’s an exceptional talent. You need to give him confidence.
Q. Another intrepid batsman, Virender Sehwag, blossomed under you. You believed in his special ability.
A. His success tells you that sometimes trusting your instinct could produce swifter and more accurate results.
People talk about his lack of footwork but at the point where the bat makes contact with the ball, he is technically good. He has a still head, shows the full face of the bat, had a solid base.
Yes, he got opportunities to open during my time and took off.
Q. Can Sachin Tendulkar get past 15,000 runs in Tests?
A. Why not? While we talk of talent, style and strokes, we fail to realise how difficult it is to get to the top and stay there amidst all the pressure. He has done it for so long.
Q: What are your thoughts on the stand taken by the Indian cricketers on the `whereabouts’ clause of the WADA code?
A: I think there are some complex issues here that need to be understood. The Indian lifestyle is different. If you ask me, I would not be happy if I am woken up at 7 a.m. for a drug test.
Q: Do you believe Test cricket is facing a crisis? Does five-day cricket need radical steps to survive?
A: No. However, I feel a Test championship could make it more interesting. For a country like New Zealand, the challenge of playing bigger nations like Australia, India or South Africa in a Test competition would be a motivation in itself. But then, I do not know how they would be able to schedule such a championship.
Test cricket is also better between two evenly matches sides. The on-going Ashes series is an example. A Test championship could bridge the gap between teams.
Ideally we need to have Test series that generates a lot of interest. I remember when India was in Pakistan, the occasion was such that the players did not want to lose. They will not want to lose any game but the feeling is stronger in the big series where there is build-up and the matches are well spaced out.
Q: There is a view that the pitches are becoming more batsmen-friendly in most countries. The pacemen, in particular, have suffered.
A: This is right. I think we need to do something about the wickets. There has to be more seam movement on day one and more spin as the Test progresses. We also need to have consistent and good bounce.
Q: Going back to your tenure with the Indian team, what brought the side together as a unit. What was the magic glue?
A: The side had some cricketers with great integrity such as Tendulkar, Dravid, Kumble, Srinath and Laxman who were role models for the younger bunch. There was a lot of ability in the side.
Q: The remarkable Indian comeback against Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001 was the turning point. Laxman, Dravid and Harbhajan enabled India to rise from the ashes.
A: That victory gave the side belief. Confidence is a very important thing in sport.
Q: India evolved as a team. The side drew with Australia in Australia (in Tests) defeated Pakistan in Pakistan (in both forms of the game) and made the World Cup final.
A: We had a captain who was not intimidated by reputations. The side was a good mix of the seniors and the younger bunch. The team grew stronger technically and mentally.
Q: Anil Kumble was a giant in every sense of the term.
A: He was out with a shoulder injury when the Aussies came here in 2001 but returned a stronger bowler. He was a champion, someone with great heart and ability. Kumble was a fantastic team-man.
Q: There was wonderful balance in the attack. India had a buzzing pace pack. It also possessed Kumble and Harbhajan.
A: We worked hard on the area of pace bowling which made the attack stronger when we toured. Kumble and Harbhajan complemented each other, maintained the pressure from both ends. They were both match-winners. Harbhajan is a very combative cricketer. It’s hard to keep him down. Among the pace bowlers, I am pleased with the strides made by Zaheer Khan. He has become a more complete bowler.
Q: Talking about New Zealand cricket, the team appears to be going through a transition period.
A: There have been quite a few retirements and we are rebuilding. It’s a going to be tough, but we do have some promising players.
Q: Despite having a limited pool of players to pick from, New Zealand continues to throw up exciting talents like Jesse Ryder and Ross Taylor. Ryder has come through a career-threatening phase.
A: I think we have done well to unearth some fine talent. Ryder and Taylor are special players. Ryder is too precious a talent to be lost due to other reasons. We have all tried to guide him in the proper direction and he has responded. Daniel Flynn is a promising left-handed batsman.
But we have lost some good cricketers to rugby which is the number one sport in New Zealand. The IPL could help in this regard. The youngsters could see themselves making a good living out of cricket. At the same time, they will have to keep their feet on ground.
Q: The side has lacked firepower in pace. The return of Shane Bond is bound to be critical. When do you see him playing Test cricket again?
A: He is very keen to play Test cricket again. We need to phase him into the side. He will join the New Zealand team for the ODIs in Sri Lanka. I can see him playing for New Zealand during the home series against Pakistan starting in December. The pitches could help him. We do not want to rush him into Test cricket.
Q: New Zealand seeks a stable opening pair in Tests as well.
A: This has been a major problem area. Players have received opportunities but have not been able to consolidate. Martin Guptill looks good though and we need to find a partner for him.
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