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John Wright: the man who gave the Indian team a new identity

GREAT MOTIVATOR: Rahul Dravid was one of the first to recognise John Wright's capabilities as a coach. - PHOTO: S. SUBRAMANIUM

GREAT MOTIVATOR: Rahul Dravid was one of the first to recognise John Wright's capabilities as a coach. - PHOTO: S. SUBRAMANIUM  

Vijay Lokapally

NEW DELHI: Indian cricket was in a nebulous state when he took over. It faced a phase of transition under a new captain and a battery of young men, most of them engaged in earning an identity in an immensely competitive league.

John Wright took over the responsibility with desire to whip a bunch of gifted cricketers into performers. "Amazing talent," he would remark after reluctantly eliminating three names from the 14. It remained a tough task for this wonderful teacher with admirable communication skills to pick the eleven.

He introduced himself as a `mate' and insisted players address him as `John' or simply `coach' and not `Sir' as had been the case with his predecessors. It made a huge impact, for the players recognised the coach as one of them.

Wright's foray into Indian cricket happened courtesy Rahul Dravid. He, along with a few seniors, was convinced the team needed a coach from overseas. And Wright, with his proven background to excel when faced with adversity, became the ideal choice for the job that he handled with authority and fabulous insight for five years.

Apt tribute

Dravid offered his tribute aptly. "It's been an eventful five years, some good and some sad moments, but overall a very productive five years with John. He also put in as much had work as the players and made a stellar contribution to Indian cricket by making us believe that we were as good as any other team in the world. He helped the team grow into a better unit. We had a wonderful partnership, enjoyed his company. We wish him well."

V.V.S. Laxman, who developed as a complete batsman during his tenure, described Wright as the decisive factor in propelling the Indian team into playing to its potential. "He is a brilliant coach. He had a big hand in changing the mindset of the Indian cricketers. He made us understand the meaning of professionalism. His insistence on collective contribution than individual brilliance worked magic for us. We learnt to play like a team from him," said Laxman.

The Kiwi was acknowledged widely as a professional cricketer and gentleman to the core and enjoyed a reputation of being a great motivator. Indian cricket could not have asked for a better individual to guide it to its current status in the big league.

Work ethic

Disenchantment greeted him in the dressing room but he did not lose time to transform the mood. He did not attempt drastic changes. He took time to drive home his points and once he had studied their attitude, guided the players with an impeccable demonstration of man management.

Wright's biggest gift to Indian cricket shall remain the wonderful work ethic that he introduced. According to Sachin Tendulkar, "Wright is a marvellous coach and a human being too. His technical analysis and ability to instil confidence is exemplary. We have all enjoyed his company. I was amazed at his determination to put in so many hours daily. I think we made the right decision to have him as our coach at a critical time. He taught the team to win." A victory on Sunday could be a fitting parting gift for the affable Kiwi.

Wright made practice sessions modern in the true sense, team meetings far more meaningful and never put any pressure on any individual once the contest began. His singular contribution in the last five years lay in convincing the players that they could match the best. The home triumph against Australia four years ago and the classic exhibition in Australia in 2003-04 shall remain the high points for a long time with the conquest in Pakistan a priceless acquisition for Indian cricket.

Evolution

The evolution of Laxman and Virender Sehwag as match-winners, the self-belief with which Dravid batted all over the international cricket fields and the ease with which youngsters like Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif and Irfan Pathan attained their ambitions were largely possible because of the silent force in the shape of Wright.

There were occasions when he would arrive at the ground very grumpy but the scowl would soon be replaced by a smile for Wright would never hold rancour. He fought for his players, backed them as far as possible and it is indeed an irony that India's most successful captain, Sourav Ganguly, will not be part of Wright's final chapter of a glorious assignment.

As Wright bids farewell at the Ferozeshah Kotla, a grateful player fraternity salutes the man who gave Indian cricket an identity to be proud of. It will be hard for John Wright too. "I'll miss India," he says.

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