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The Rediff Cricket Interview
/ John Wright
'You don't pick top sides on sentiment'
September 26, 2003
He is busy watching a match, scribbling notes, and feeding data into his laptop, all at once.
"Sorry, be with you in a minute, mate," he apologises a little later for being late. Late by all of two minutes.
India's cricket coach John Wright is a thorough professional, a professor who does his homework well, and calls today the tomorrow he prepared for yesterday.
With a tricky Test series against New Zealand at home coming up shortly, and a daunting tour of Australia later this year, Wright has kicked off the season experimenting in his search for the tough guys who can make the journey Down Under. The Indian Test side is still searching for openers and a wicket-keeper. Javagal Srinath is yet to decide on his future. Ashish Nehra will miss the Kiwi series. And Ajit Agarkar is still the best all-rounder we have.
Wright spoke to Faisal Shariff about the coaching camps, the search for openers and a wicket-keeper, and Srinath's successor. Excerpts:
When you planned the twin camps, you had certain goals in mind. How successful have the camps been?
We have achieved everything we wanted to, starting with the fitness camp. That was excellent. It allowed us to check players who need to improve physically and gave the boys a chance to meet Greg [Gregory Allen King, the new physical trainer]. For players who were injured, we ensured that the rehabilitation process was in place. We gave them as much net practice as possible and got a good look at the youngsters. I am highly impressed by the young bowlers who were invited to the camp. Some of them will play for India, eventually.
It's time now to play some cricket with the Kiwis and the Australians. It's all about match practice from here on.
Are you completely satisfied with the fitness levels of the players?
There are one or two issues with the fitness of players. If we felt there was room for improvement, it was communicated to the players. All in all, I am very happy with the players' fitness.
We are less than 100 days away from the tour of Australia and we are still hunting for Test openers and a wicket-keeper. Isn't it scary?
If you look at the team right now you will see that we need to nail down and identify the openers who will do the job. We feel we have found players who can perform in India. But Australia will be a different type of challenge, in the opening area particularly.
We have tried a few combinations since that area will come under a lot of scrutiny. In Australia you have to be prepared to play short balls and I don't expect my players to be jumping on the front foot.
Our ability to play off the back foot will be tested. If we can get the openers who can see off the new ball, then the middle order will be a huge bonus. The opening pair is critical. If we want to get to number one or two in the world, we have to have openers. If you look at South Africa or Australia, their top three batters do the bulk of the scoring. That's the key.
We talk about it, but at the end of the day decisions will have to be taken on how well players perform in matches. Whether or not they can play well above the waist will be decisive.
Last time we toured Australia, we took Devang Gandhi who scored well against New Zealand in India. But in Australia, he was sorted out. How do we safeguard against things like that?
We need to identify openers who are good off the back foot. I have been an opener myself and know that when you play on bouncy wickets, you don't get too many cover drives. You have got to be able to play off both feet. It is a tough game in Australia. It's not about getting on the front foot. Openers should be able to cut and pull. I'm sure we will identify the players we want.
Have you been able to identify anyone for the job yet?
Some have done well. From my position at this stage people will have to put their hands up and prove they can open.
Sanjay Bangar is a great example of someone who goes out and you know he will hang in there, stick around. It's a bit hard to judge because since New Zealand and England, no one really got there as an opener.
Sehwag made one or two comments about not opening, but he is still in the reckoning.
The main strength has to be to score runs. And forge partnerships. The partnership is very important. Partnership relaxes everyone. It gives the middle order the cushion. Imagine going in with a middle order like ours after a good opening partnership.
Javagal Srinath said this is the best phase for Indian fast bowling with so many quality bowlers popping up.
There is good competition for once. When I arrived in 2000, it was a very sad scene. We are in a good situation now. You only have to look at some boys and understand that we are very well off now in that department.
But it is very important to identify the ones who can go on and look after them. It is important you monitor their development. What are they doing from the training point of view; how much bowling they are doing; how much physical exercise they need; their diet; etc. We have to monitor them. They are very valuable if we get it right.
This is something that I will be talking to the [Board of Control for Cricket in India] president [Jagmohan Dalmiya] and selectors about. Once we get promising bowlers, we should make a conscious effort and have a plan that we really develop them. Lot can be done with how we monitor them through the season. Then you want them to go out and perform and the best one will go through.
Is Srinath -- provided his knee recovers in time -- still in your scheme of things?
Sri is a proven performer. Sri and I have a tremendous relationship, but the selectors will decide once he gets over his knee problem.
A couple of good chats with him will help. He did a tremendous job in the World Cup.
Also, along with [leg-spinner Anil] Kumble, he has a great mentoring role to play. You don't pick top sides on sentiment or on past performances. You pick on form and pick proven players. And like everyone else, you have to take your chance.
What about the wicket-keeper?
Whoever is chosen as the 'keeper will have to bat, well. The number seven has really helped us all of last year. Whoever keeps on the day must score runs. Being able to score runs consistently is also important; he has to be party to the batting team.
I'm sure that Rahul [Dravid] will do what is required for the team, he always has, but we have to look at the future. And in many ways we have to look at the next World Cup from now because most of these guys will go to the next one.
We have identified quality youngsters like Thilak Naidu, Ajay Ratra and Parthiv Patel; all three are good.
Let's face it, they are very young. And there will be others who could turn up. But they have to bat at seven, or maybe higher.
I understand Rahul and Sourav [Ganguly] need to decide and talk through those issues. Dravid did a wonderful job, but 'keeping in India is a bigger challenge than South Africa. I still think we need to develop 'keepers as well.
There is too much talk of revenge with the visiting New Zealand team. Your comments?
We want to play good cricket. I think what you will find is that the series between the two teams will be a better spectacle than what we saw in New Zealand. The conditions will be better. People say that there will be dustbowls in India, but I disagree. Conditions are tough, but the ball takes turn by the fourth day. We are tough to beat at home, no doubt, and we want to play well against them.
I think you play to play at the best of your ability. We won't play on wickets we played down there in New Zealand. If we play good cricket we will win.
Words like revenge are a joke.
V V S Laxman returns to the fold after the shock of the World Cup.
Laxman is a quality player. He is one of the unlucky players in selections. He was very supportive and I feel for him. In India he averages 37 in one-dayers. He is also a great influence on the team. He is an automatic choice in Tests and I believe he has a huge role in Indian cricket. It is great to have him back.
As coach it's really hard when players miss out. And you see how disappointed they are, but I'm delighted to see him back. He is the world-class player we all know him to be.