The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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'The Board should close the zone-wise selectors' chapter'

New Delhi: Come Sunday and John Wright's career as the Team India coach ends. The former New Zealand captain takes to the sixth and final ODI, against Pakistan, with a 68-55 (six abandonments) record. In Tests, it stands at 21-15 (16 draws). Despite a million things on his mind, Wright spoke to The Telegraph for around 45 minutes at the Taj Palace on Saturday afternoon.

The following are excerpts

Q Today, what are your emotions'

A (Grins) At this moment, the desire to win tomorrow overrides everything... I've never been able to accept defeats and I would hate to bow out with a loss... Defeats leave an emptiness... Leave you angry, frustrated.

This last assignment has been tough...

Yeah... Always knew it would be so, but I'm very disappointed we couldn't force a win in Mohali (first Test) and allowed Pakistan to get 316 in the fourth ODI (Motera)... We had our moments, but... Some of the results have left me frustrated... Indeed, winning positions against a good opposition have to be made use of.

But, surely, you've had some time to reflect on your innings with Team India...

There has been so much travelling... But, yes, while driving to Kanpur (from Lucknow) the other day, it did cross my mind there will be people whom I may never meet again... I hope I do, but I'm soon going to be thousands of miles away... Life, though, will go on... I left Kent to coach India and, really, never regretted the move.

When did you decide to give it up'

I first thought about leaving after the series in Pakistan (2003-04), but Mr Jagmohan Dalmiya convinced me to stay... Also, I wanted to have a role in another face-off with Australia and Pakistan... I'm going to miss coaching India, but I couldn't have continued till the 2007 World Cup. My children ' Harry (13) and Georgie (11) need me at home.

Does a coach have a shelf life'

Yes... There's that 'use by...' element.

What were your thoughts when you took up the job (November 2000)'

Frankly, I didn't know how long I would last! I remember quite a few former players weren't in favour of a foreigner getting the job and... Fortunately, that great series versus Australia took place just months later, otherwise you and I probably wouldn't have been talking this afternoon... (After a pause) I was hungry to succeed and, more than anything else, wanted to prove to myself I could coach an international team... Of course, I was determined to try and make a difference.

Did that 'welcome' put you off'

It strengthened my determination. As you know, I can be quite persistent.

You introduced a new work ethic... Attitude became important...

Well, I believe in hard work and I believe you've got to be passionate... Moreover, the Indian public deserves a good cricket team. The journey, however, hasn't finished... Hopefully, the person who succeeds me will continue pushing towards an even better work ethic.

What's the first change you brought about'

Removing chairs from the nets area and stopping the serving of tea and biscuits. At times, small acts make a big difference.

How long did it take you to settle down'

Not too long... The camp in Chennai ahead of that 2001 series against Australia helped me and the boys... They got a good feel of what I was all about... Equally, I got to know them better.

Off the field, what was the turning point'

Adrian le Roux's appointment as trainer in early 2002... His presence created a different environment and took us a step further.

Did you, at any time, feel cramped'

(After a pause) If I had the job all over again, I would ask for a vote at selection meetings... I would like the freedom to say I talked to X a month back, but he hasn't improved and, so, must be dropped... Performance is most important, but the attitude factor is there as well.

Shouldn't the zone-wise representation of selectors be stopped'

Absolutely... I appreciate they come under pressure, but only the best team must be picked... I can't say the Australian or the model followed by England is ideal, but the Board should close the zone-wise selectors' chapter. It may have been useful, but isn't so now.

What are the challenges facing Team India'

Working out the No. 7 slot in ODIs is right at the top... You must have someone who is able to bowl his ten overs... I would look at Irfan Pathan, Dinesh Mongia and Sridharan Sriram... It could even be somebody else. Then, generally, the fielding has to improve... India could also do with a genuine quick.

Looking back, what has been the biggest change'

The belief that wins can be recorded overseas... This team has the potential to do very well and a new voice in the form of the new coach is definitely going to have a positive influence.

Did Sunil Gavaskar's appointment as consultant, just hours before the series versus Australia, upset you'

For both of us, it was an unusual situation... He needed time to get used to me and vice-versa... In the end, we 'managed' each other for the two series (the second being the face-off with South Africa)...

Are you in favour of consultants/specialist coaches or does the regular coach's position then get diluted'

Depends on what the main coach wants. For example, Bruce Reid did a terrific job with our bowlers on the 2003-04 tour of Australia... At the same time, having too many people around leads to too many shoulders to cry on... Left to me, I would like to have a say in any support staff-appointment... If the coach doesn't have a working relationship with somebody on the support staff, then he may get compromised.

Shouldn't there be more interaction with the Sandy Gordons'

Yes, but Sandy is very busy... Also, it's not necessary that every player needs a pro motivator... Sandy, to my mind, made the team appreciate the importance of having a goal for every series or tournament... The captain and the next coach are the ones to decide whether the interaction has to be more frequent.

What has been your philosophy as coach'

For me, the captain is most important... A coach can have vision and set direction, but he's not the boss.

There were whispers you were often soft...

Surely, none of the boys said that... I wasn't... Had I been so, I probably wouldn't have been around for four-and-half years. Often, perceptions are misleading.

Why did you scrap fines for no-balls'

(Laughs again) Because that didn't work! The fines didn't seem to make a difference... Actually, the bowlers have to themselves realise no-balls hurt the team. An honest answer to a simple question ' what is best for the team' ' will solve problems.

Except a few Tests and some ODIs, you worked with Sourav Ganguly as captain. How did the experience go'

In some ways, Sourav and I were quite different. Yet, both of us were very passionate about the team and complemented each other... Obviously, the chemistry between the captain and coach has to be right... Sourav gave his style of leadership and I did my role... There were days when we differed, but the bottomline is we always looked at what was best for the team. That we've had an excellent group of senior players made things easy. I couldn't have asked for a better leadership group... (After a pause) Here, I would like to add Anil Kumble has always come through as captaincy material... Potentially, the best... Has all the qualities... Only, he has just led in one ODI.

Till the other day, Sourav was hounded...

Captaining India is tough and, in my opinion, Sourav has handled things beautifully... Scrutiny by the Media and everything else goes with the job though... At times, captaincy hasn't helped his batting; on other occasions, it has... Sourav has injected passion and worked hard at moulding this team. It's a fact he's going through a tough time, but it's also a fact he has to perform.

How would you describe working with Sachin Tendulkar'

I've been privileged... His humility... Strength of character... His class as a cricketer... It has been a wonderful experience.

Today, what do you pick as your top disappointment and the No. 1 achievement'

Losing the 2003 World Cup final... Not being able to win the Sydney Test last year... Starting this season on a poor note (Asia Cup)... As for the highs, beating Australia in that great series (2001) and defeating Pakistan in Pakistan last year... Also, winning the 2002 NatWest final, when we chased 326.

The final question: What are your immediate plans'

(Emotionally) Going home (Christchurch) and easing off for a month or two... People have suggested I write a book, but I'm first going to assess what I've learnt... I'll clear my mind... I'm going to miss the passion of cricket in India, but I've got to honour my commitment to my children.

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