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Man who hates surrender
- ‘Some people still say I am a foreigner-coach...’

His strong beliefs, his emphasis on discipline and his ability to infuse a new sense of professionalism into the team has to be lauded. Like it or not, John Wright has made a name for himself in Indian cricket. “I’ve got a much better grasp of things in Indian cricket, I’m more into Indian cricket,” says the New Zealander with pride.

Things had not looked so bright even a month ago. The drubbing in New Zealand had left the coach shattered and searching for answers. Moreover, BCCI chief Jagmohan Dalmiya’s straight-talk (that his contract would be reviewed on the basis of the team’s World Cup performance) on the eve of the team’s departure for South Africa only added to the pressure.

But the former New Zealand opener dealt it all with a straight bat. Despite a none-too-impressive opening against Holland and a drubbing at the hands of Australia, Wright helped rebuild the players’ confidence and self-belief.

He kept a cool head and was transparent in his ideas. So positive was his approach and his goals that he kept reminding the players to “focus only on this week for some time… It’s one of the biggest weeks ever for Indian cricket.”

Getting the players to interact with one Sandy Gordon also helped a lot. The team theme “Now or Never’ has done wonders. “I first met Sandy in Bangalore (at the National Cricket Academy) and felt it wouldn’t be a bad idea if the players heard another voice. In any case, he’s at the top in his trade... He can’t change things by popping in and out, but can certainly get the players to think about something.”

Wright was quick to identify the team’s grey areas once he took charge — fielding and running between the wickets. To improve the players’ fitness, he got physical trainer Adrian Le Roux to work on the players along with physio Andrew Leipus. The positives are just emerging.

He always encouraged youth and the will to work hard. Look at Mohammed Kaif. He’s athletic and got the will to succeed despite his limitations. Be it the NatWest final or batting at No. 4 in this tournament, he’s acted as a perfect foil in crunch situations. He owes a lot of his success to Wright.

Another case in point could be Dinesh Mongia. He was preferred over Vangipurappu Laxman at the coach’s insistence leading to a lot of raised eyebrows. The Punjab batsman has proved his worth with his athleticism and handy contributions.

He has managed to instill the Aussie attitude of being ruthless on the field. If the hunger and commitment is missing, the door must be opened to others, he stressed. “The team must fight… I hate surrender,” was his mantra.

The message has been well received. There is no lack of effort, the players have the will to fight till the last ball. Sheer determination has brought a transformation not many would have vouched for prior to the tournament. Importantly, the Indians have learnt the art of winning matches from hopeless situations.

Workaholic Wright is never laid-back and has the ability to rub off his ethics on the players. Watch the Indians at practice and the difference is visible. There is a sense of purpose in every move even though they look relaxed.

Soft spoken but vocal in his views, he has always made his thoughts clear to the players. The presence of a computer analyst at team meetings — a first in Indian cricket in keeping with other top teams — has always helped in evaluating and analysing the pros and cons of every game.

India’s resurgence owes a lot to Wright. “Some people may still say I’m a foreigner-coach... Fact is, I’ve done the best I could.”

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