John Wright, the former New Zealand and India coach, has expressed immense satisfaction at the involvement of legendary Indian players from the team he supervised shortly after the turn of the century in Indian cricket today. Speaking to TOI Sports from his home in Christchurch, Wright – who was the coach of the Indian team from 2000 to 2005 – said it was a huge positive for the country that the likes of Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman were actively involved in Indian cricket.
“I’m delighted to see the involvement of some of the people I had the pleasure of working with. Anil as coach, then Rahul getting involved with the A team and Under-19 team, Laxman and Tendulkar and Sourav involved in an advisory capacity and in IPL teams. [Javagal] Srinath is a match referee too, and these really are the best guys available to better cricket in India,” said Wright, who played 82 Tests and 149 ODIs for New Zealand.
“I just worked with an outstanding group of young men and was very fortunate in that regard. From that point of view, to see them getting back into the game in these roles, and giving the knowledge that I know they have as well as the good qualities that made them what they are as players and made them members of the great team that went on and did some good things, is so valuable for Indian cricket.”
Under Wright, India won an unforgettable Test series against Australia at home, drew a Test series in Australia, reached the 2003 World Cup final and won both Test and ODI series in Pakistan. Since he quit the coaching job, Wright has returned to India many times, most prominently as head coach and then talent scout for IPL franchise Mumbai Indians. In his view, the success of T20 cricket is breeding more all-round players.
“Twenty20 is the big change in cricket, and the biggest thing is that it’s so exciting and vibrant. The IPL is fantastic and I enjoy it passionately … being able to scout talent and meet young cricketers across India, in particular,” said Wright. “What’s also exciting is that there are quality players coming through who are successful in all formats, foremost being Virat Kohli. Just brilliant. There are some specialists around, mostly in T20 and ODIs, which has been the case for long if you look at one-dayers. But the guys who really make a difference in T20s are also the guys who making hundreds and taking five wickets in Test matches, because they can adapt their skills to different formats.”
New Zealand, led by Kane Williamson, are currently in India for three Tests and five ODIs. Williamson made his debut in Tests and ODIs not long before Wright took over as New Zealand coach in December 2010, and during his tenure the 62-year-old watched him from close quarters: in nine Tests, 17 ODIs and six T20Is, to be precise.
“Williamson is a beautiful player, who I first saw when he was in high school. It was pretty obvious to all of that he was a special kid. He’s technically outstanding and has a good attitude, he’s a smart player,” said Wright. “When I was coach, I picked him to go the World Cup [in 2011] and we got to the semi-finals. I batted him at No 7 and people were a little dubious, but he ended up scoring more runs to balls faced [99 runs, strike-rate 107.60, average 49.50 in four games]. His development since then has been tremendous to watch and admire.
“You just hope that with the added responsibility of captaincy, he keeps on playing the way he’s been doing and enjoying his cricket,” said Wright. “The big thing is – when you’re creating any team, you don’t want to put too much pressure on anyone. There are six batsmen who’ve all got different styles etc etc and he’s just one of six or seven. If you’re going to do well in India, you have to get in and then go on. Kane has the advantage of having scored his first Test hundred in India on debut and he’s a beautiful player of spin bowling. I’m sure he’ll have a great tour and people will love watching him bat because people understand cricket in India and love watching good players.”
The first Test starts on September 22 in Kanpur and Wright – who was captain when New Zealand won their last Test in India back in 1988 – was hopeful of Kiwi success.
“There’s depth in that lineup. You’ve got Ross Taylor, a proven player; young Tom Latham who got runs in the UAE; and some young spinners coming through. That’s exciting,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for New Zealand; they’re a young, talented side on the way up and they’ve got opportunities to win Test matches. Let’s hope they have a good tour and provide a good contest. Its two reasonably young sides against each other and it should be fascinating.”