John Wright – Better Player or Coach?

The present generation of cricket lovers remembers, or rather knows, John Wright as one of the finest coaches going around. After all, why wouldn’t it? He has coached two national cricket teams – India and New Zealand – fairly successfully. He took India to the finals of the 2003 World Cup and also helped New Zealand to the semi finals of the 2011 World Cup. It must be remembered that in both the tournaments, no one had given his team a chance but he confounded expectations and helped his team perform well. However, one must take a look at his playing career to understand how Wright, the coach, evolved.

John Wright was easily one of the best openers to have played for the New Zealand national team. His first test was against England at Wellington in 1978 and his last test came against Australia, the traditional opponents of New Zealand, in 1993 at Auckland. In this 16 year career, he gathered 5334 runs at a decent average of 37.82. He had achieved several milestones as a batsman – being the first one to cross the 4000-run barrier for New Zealand and also one of the first batsmen to score a century against all his opponents. He also had a distinguished county career with Derbyshire where he formed a fantastic opening partnership with Peter Kirsten.

As a batsman, Wright is said to have been assured in both defence and stroke play and was a key member of the national team in the 1980s when the Kiwis achieved remarkable successes in Australia and England – not a mean feat for a team that has always had to make do with limited talent compared to countries like India. Once his playing days were over, Wright focused on a career as a coach and started with Kent, where he came across Rahul Dravid who referred his name to the Board when it was looking for a coach of the national team during 2000-01.

As the national coach, John Wright struck up a famous partnership with Saurav Ganguly, the then captain. This period saw the emergence of a young group of players like Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Mohammad Kaif, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh who almost made the team proud in the 2003 World Cup final, and (before and after that) won both test and one day series in Pakistan, and drew the test series in Australia, England and the West Indies. However, the defining moment of this partnership was in 2001, when India came back from behind and won the series against Australia. The NatWest series triumph in 2002 in England was also an achievement worth remembering. As the coach of New Zealand, Wright had a shorter stay. Apart from the 2011 World Cup, the team also won its first test in Australia in 26 years under his coaching.

The hallmarks of Wright as a coach were similar to his playing days – an astute mind coupled with the iron will to work hard and leave no stone unturned in preparation. He is now coaching the Mumbai Indians in the IPL as well and the team is performing pretty creditably. However, I, personally, would remember Wright as the person who turned Indian cricket around and who gave non-believers some hope that the Indian team can fight and would not back down against anyone. That’s a legacy worth remembering.