“Going to India is like coming home,” John Wright wrote in his book, Indian Summers. “It touches something in you, leaves a mark, and you forget what it is until you go back. Then, in an instant, suddenly that part of you comes alive again. Wherever I am and whatever I do, it will be reaching out to me, drawing me back.”
The truth in these words resonated at the Marina cricket ground when Wright, here with the New Zealand ‘A’ side, visited. St. Bede’s was playing St. John’s in the final of the Sumeru Soft tournament, and the New Zealander, invited to give away the prizes, looked supremely contented. A constant smile played on his lips. His warmth was evident in the way he spoke to the old-timers who had come to see the match.
Down memory lane
“It’s such a lovely ground isn’t it?” asked Wright, his blue eyes shining. “This was all sand when we used to pass this ground on the (Indian) team bus after playing at Chepauk. Now it’s so green. I have such fond memories of India, particularly Chennai and Chepauk. We used to drive by this ground after finishing our day, and there would be so many kids playing here.”
As the boys trooped off the field, Wright shook hands with each of them. “Well done, you got a brilliant century didn’t you?” he asked K. Bharath Shankar of St. Bede’s. “What’s your favourite stroke?” Bharath Shankar’s answer - the cover-drive - appeared to delight Wright, who threw his arms out and laughed. “You a fast bowler?” he asked a tall, wiry lad, who said he kept wicket. “Wicketkeeper!” More mirth. He commiserated with the boys from St. John’s, his manner sincere.
Most important thing
“I come from a small country, and what I miss is the passion and the love for cricket back in New Zealand,” he said, addressing the young cricketers from a dais of sorts. “And that’s what I find here. That’s the most important thing for all of you. Love the game. I feel so privileged to have coached India and seen such wonderfully talented cricketers play in such an exciting style. I always saw (Virender) Sehwag bat three overs, and think, ‘Geez, I’d need an hour to get that many’. This (at school) is where it (the journey to international cricket) starts.”
Wright stood around after the ceremony, posing for photographs, signing bats, sipping a cuppa. “My son’s 17, he’s a spinner,” he said. “I’m going to bring him here to India to learn to bowl.” That’ll give Wright another reason (not that he needs one) to visit a land he so clearly loves, a land he referred to as home several times during the evening.