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Be Indian, undermine the Indian team

Faisal Shariff | April 04, 2003

The rediff cricket diary

"It is a pity that despite India having coaches of the calibre of Sandeep Patil, we have to import the likes of John Geoffrey Wright."

So said former Test great and captain of India's 1983 World Cup-winning squad, Kapil Dev Nikhanj, on television this morning.

The statement should come as no surprise. This campaign, fronted by Board of Control for Cricket in India president Jagmohan Dalmiya and endorsed by some of the most illustrious names in Indian cricket, to get rid of the 'foreign coach' has been going on for a long time now.

Dalmiya in fact tried to get rid of Wright last September; only a near revolt by senior players in the Indian ranks, led by captain Sourav Ganguly himself, prevented him from axing the New Zealander.

It is no surprise, too, that Kapil Dev spearheads the call. In recent times, the former all-rounder has emerged as Dalmiya's front man. Thus, when it was necessary to file a public interest petition to stall certain moves by the International Cricket Council, it was Kapil who did the needful. And now that Dalmiya finds it necessary to make moves on Wright, it is Kapil again who, from the pedestal of his former greatness, fronts that call.

Before examining the merits of the case Kapil makes, it might be interesting to examine the merits of the man making the case. While there is no dispute about the Wisden Indian Cricketer of the Century's cricketing credentials, his coaching curriculum vitae is another story altogether.

As coach, Kapil has the dubious record of masterminding India's first home series defeat in 13 years, to South Africa, when India lost the Bombay and Bangalore Tests to end its unbeaten home run.

Just a year later, the 'import', John Wright, was back-stopping the same side to a fantastic series win at home that halted the seemingly invincible Australian juggernaut, and ended Steve Waugh's record run of 16 Test wins on the trot.

Since that date, India's performance has improved consistently. After 16 years, India won an away Test; in fact, India has under Wright won at least one Test in every away series it has played in.

India also made it to the final of the World Cup, for the first time after 1983.

John WrightImpressed? Others are. Thus, after losing to India in a Super Six game, Sri Lankan coach Dave Whatmore underlined the drastic changes Wright has brought into Indian cricket. It was Wright who broke through the parochial mindset that, till then, had seen players from one zone sticking together, and introduced the culture of 'Team India', a unified entity that buried parochialism and prided itself on its oneness.

It was Wright, again, who introduced the traditionally lazy Indian cricketer to the culture of fitness. It was Wright who emphasized the need for fitness training, and arm-twisted the most parsimonious sports body in the world into investing in a physio and physical trainer, a policy that has resulted in the notoriously slack Indian team now taking its place as one of the fittest on the circuit.

So dramatic was the change in the team's fitness level that Kapil's own predecessor as coach, Anshuman Gaekwad, alleged that the Indian players were on steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. "I saw Andrew Leipus giving the players some powder mixed in milk," he claimed. It turned out to be the everyday protein shake, Myoplex.

Kapil and Gaekwad are not the only ones to have had a swipe at the 'imported' coach. Check out former great Dilip Vengsarkar, who in his Cricketnext.com column (John Wright's appointment, a right step) had in 2000 hailed the appointment of Wright in these words: 'I went out for dinner with a senior member of the present Indian team and he wanted to know my views on the appointment of a foreign coach. I just asked him what he had learnt from the Indian coaches who had been on job. His answer was short and simple: "Nothing".

'He elaborated that not one had contributed to the strategy of the team nor was anyone in the team the recipient of good tips on batting, bowling or fielding. Even their fielding drills were used by players in the '50s and '60s. Let's face facts. The BCCI is a very wealthy body. So why not have the best man for the job?

'There may be the argument that when we have coaches who come for one-tenth the price, why pay a foreigner exorbitant fees. Well, if you want the best, you have got to pay accordingly. As simple as that. As I mentioned in my earlier columns, foreign coaches are well versed with the latest trends in the game. More importantly, they are extremely professional in their approach. As a practice, they have everything lined up for weeks in advance and are not afraid to put their plans into action.'

That was then.

Note what Vengsarkar says: A senior player had said no Indian coach had contributed anything to the team's knowledge bank. Who were the coaches of the time? Gaekwad. Followed by Kapil Dev.

Dilip VengsarkarTwo years later, the selfsame Vengsarkar, on the selfsame Web site, had this to say about John Wright: 'Arjuna [Ranatunga] wanted to know from me why the Indian Board invited John Wright to coach the team. He felt that the BCCI should have continued with Indian coaches, for they are well versed with the conditions and are no less than their counterparts across the globe in terms of planning and strategy.

'Looking back at his reasoning, I feel that Wright as a coach has not done anything extraordinary, for if one goes through the record books, his performance as a coach is pretty ordinary. Possibly worse than any of the Indian coaches we earlier had. We both felt that if the team has a coach who is a former cricketer, he is always in touch with the players, especially with the younger lot in the team, and knows more about the young local talent.

'It's easier for him to devise training methods and keep a tab on the progress made by the players. Now, after the India-Zimbabwe Test series, Wright returned home and only joined the team at London, whereas he should have been there to observe the fitness of the players and their requirements before the long tour.

'I have my doubts whether he knows about the players participating and doing well in junior cricket, which is the main supply line for international cricket. It doesn't really require a great effort to do that, but has he done it?

'No. I believe on the tour of Zimbabwe last year and during the India-Australia series in India, Chetan Chauhan's contribution to the team was more than that of Wright in terms of handling young players in the team, talking to and guiding the seniors.'

Has he done that, asks Vengsarkar. Actually, Wright is the one who as coach spent all his spare time running around the country, witnessing any domestic match that was going on at the time -- a task neither Gaekwad, nor Kapil, nor their predecessors, felt the need to do.

But more to the point is Vengsarkar's charge that Wright's record is worse than that of earlier Indian coaches. An earlier column by Prem Panicker had addressed just that question. (When reading it, do note that this was written in December 2001. While the figures for the former coaches are right, the ones for Wright need updating.)

Clearly, even a cursory inspection tells you that Wright's record is streets ahead of that of any Indian coach who has held office thus far. So how does he rate in comparison to the best of the world?

Surprise, surprise: In one-dayers, only John Buchanan of Australia (75.8%) has a better success rate than the 'imported' John Wright (57.5%). Check the table below:

John Buchanan (Aus)
Team: Australia
Period: From 1-11-1999
ODIs9169 (75.8%)1822
Tests3931 (79.5%)53-

John Wright (NZ)
Team: India
Period: From 15-11-2000
ODIs8046 (57.5%)313-
Tests3112 (46.2%)109-

Richard Pybus (SA)
Team: Pakistan
Period: 1-9-1999 to 30-9-2001
ODIs6537 (56.9%)2701
Tests216 (28.6%)960

Period: 1-10-2002 to 15-3-2003
ODIs168 (50%)71-
Tests72 (28.6%)5--

Dav Whatmore (SL)
Team: Sri Lanka
Period: Second stint began after 1999 WC
ODIs11766 (56%)4632
Tests3918 (46.2%)138-

Dennis Aberhart (NZ)
Team: New Zealand
Period: From 5-08-2001
ODIs4420 (45.5%)231-
Tests136 (46%)25-

Note: Eric Simons, South African coach, was appointed on August 1, 2002. As he has not completed even one year in the office, his figures have not been taken into consideration.

In Tests, Wright has not had the same level of success. But it might be worth mentioning that India has, for 16 years now, been a side that won at home and lost everything abroad. It was only after Wright's advent that the trend was reversed and India began winning Test matches away from home. It is also noteworthy that of the 10 Tests India has won with Wright at the helm, four were played away from home.

So much for Vengsarkar's critique. The most laughable statement is that Chetan Chauhan as manager was responsible for India's home win against Australia. By that logic, why not credit manager Jyoti Bajpai with India's superb run in the World Cup that took the team all the way to the final?

Then again, it was Vengsarkar who had labelled Sourav Ganguly a benefactor of the quota system, when the Bengal southpaw was picked for the squad to tour England in 1996.

We live in strange times. For as long as anyone can remember, Indian cricket pundits clamoured for a foreign coach. This, they argued, was the only way to end zonal politics; the only way to introduce professionalism. Now, they tell the other tale. Why? The answer is easy -- money. A full-time coach with a long-term contract means that various former greats find themselves out in the cold.

We will sign off with a prediction: As the BCCI keeps Wright, Leipus and physical trainer Adrian Le Roux on tenterhooks by extending their contracts two months at a time, stand by for more former 'greats' to join the 'swadeshi' bandwagon.

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