Wednesday, Dec 08, 2021

'Sourav Had To Go'

It's the season for spicy, sensational disclosures in books, and former Indian coach John Wright has come up with his own, his comments on regionalism, scapegoating of Kaif and Laxman, and of course, Sachin are bound to be grist for the mills.

'Sourav Had To Go'
| AP
'Sourav Had To Go'

Former New Zealand skipper and Indian coach John Wright divulged some sensational inside information on several issues including his much-speculated relationship with former captain Sourav Ganguly in his new book Indian Summers, which was released in New Zealand on 27th July. The book will be released here by Penguin India in October.

Excerpts from the book, released by PTI:

On his relationship with Sourav:

He (Sourav) was a special man. He wore his heart on his sleeve and there was an arrogance that used to get up people's noses.

But I think that was good for us, it was good to have that feistiness as the country learned it was becoming such a powerhouse in world cricket.

I tested him (Ganguly) and he tested me but there was an inner trust between us. He would often do things which were the opposite of what we had talked about, which always kept me on my toes, but there was a bond that grew, despite how different we were. And we were always a really happy side.

As much as I respect Sourav and acknowledge his record as captain and contribution to cricket, I believe there were sound arguments for a change in leadership towards the end of my stint.

There might well have been times when he (Sourav) favoured a change of coach. What really mattered that the two of us saw the bigger picture, worked as a partnership to provide leadership on and off the field and got results. In that last season though, the results dried up.

As much media speculation and gossip as a Bollywood marriage. (On their bitter-sweet relationship). And like any marriage, there was a honeymoon period, then reality set in and we settled down for the long haul.

His high-handedness often annoyed me, but I secretly admired his rebellious streak because it gave the team some pepper and it got up opposition noses, most famously Steve Waugh's.

He and I have probably spent more time in disciplinary hearings than any other captain and coach. It must have been a combination of my flawed messages and Ganguly's blithe refusal to take the slighest notice of what anyone told him to do.

I thought I could help him tactically, but I began with the basics, suggesting that he get a new watch as it was important the captain was on time.

The players had grown up in a culture of seniors and juniors... Ganguly and I were as one on this - it had to change. He was determined to create a new culture and did an admirable job of making the younger players feel that they belonged.

He didn't give a stuff about convention, other people's expectations, niceties or officialdom -- especially match referees. On the face of it, we weren't a natural fit.

It was never going to be sweetness and light, but in the end the issues that divided us - and there were a few - were insubstantial compared to the cause in which we were united - to create a new team culture and give the most passionate nation in the world the team they deserved.

On Sourav bringing in Sunil Gavaskar as a consultant:

Two days before the first Test (in Bangalore, against Australia 2004-5 series), I was notified that the legendary Sunil Gavaskar would be joining us as a batting consultant. I couldn't work out how it had happened. Gavaskar solved the mystery by revealing in a team meeting that he had a text message from Ganguly. I was far from happy because as the head coach I should have had the final say on support staff issues.

...if the captain decides to bring someone into the camp two days out from a Test against the best team in the world, there's not a hell of a lot you can do about it.

Regionalism in selection committee meetings:

The first six or seven selections were straight forward. But when it got down to the marginal selections, those last three or four spots that determine the balance of the team and your ability to develop new players, the zonal factor kicked in and things would get interesting.

It was easy to tell when selectors had come to a meeting with an agenda... If their boys weren't picked, they tended to cross their arms, clam up and take no further part in the meeting.

V.V.S. Laxman and Mohammad Kaif made scapegoats:

V.V.S. Laxman and Kaif are examples of outstanding performers who always seemed to be only one or two failures away from having their places questioned.

Kaif had managed to get under (former England captain Nasser) Hussain's skin... He clearly bugged Hussain when England were in India and during the game at Durham, he had a real go at Kaif telling him to shut up and calling him a bus driver.

Reluctance to act against the 'superstars':

The exceptions are the superstars. There's still reluctance to give an under-performing or unfocussed big name a blunt message by having him sit out a tour or a few one-dayers.

His approach as coach:

That was simply not the case (on being soft on the players). I had tried everything including banging my fists and being hard-nosed and whenever the president or selectors sought my opinion, they got it without any equivocation or sugar coating. One thing I chose not to do was argue my case in public.

His stint with the team:

Mine was the loneliest job in the world. But, it was probably the biggest adventure I will ever have in my life. I miss that thrill of getting on that team bus and going to a big game, with the crowds clapping you all the way to the ground....

In many ways, that's what made the job so exciting. I actually didn't have a contract for about 40 per cent of the time but it didn't really matter because they were honourable people. I got paid every three months so that was the length of time I'd allow myself to look ahead.

It was satisfying that I lasted so long, I certainly didn't expect to walk away on my own terms, but I proved I could survive and proved that a foreigner could do the job.

Behind closed doors: If it happened, it was done in Hindi and behind my back, which is exactly what I would have expected. (Dismissing Sunil Gavaskar's claim that he was abused by the players).

When they trooped in after a sloppy session, I didn't pat them on the back and say 'well done lads'. I asked them where the bloody effort was.

If some of them called me a grumpy old bastard when I left them to think about it, so what? It wasn't beach cricket, and dressing room aren't churches.

If a player thought I was stuffing up, he had every right to say so, either in private or in front of the team. I wasn't backward in letting them know what I thought of their performances, and I had no problem with them doing the same to me.

Most disagreements tended to be one-on-one behind closed doors, but if hard things had to be said in front of the entire group, so be it. We wanted an open and honest environment, and you only get that if everyone feels they can speak their mind without being jumped on and without people getting precious and taking offence.

Being soft on players:  From time to time outsiders who read too much into my public persona suggested that maybe I was too soft for the job, but I don't think that view held sway on the other side of the dressing room.

Sachin: Denied Double Ton 

Tendulkar, batting on 194 in the first Test against arch-rivals Pakistan in the Multan Test in 2004, left no one in doubt that he felt let down. We had a hot potato on our hands.

Midway through the final session, Dravid declared, as you do when you're 675 for 5. What Indian captains don't tend to do, however, is declare when Sachin Tendulkar is on 194 not out. The matter became a full-fledged sensation when Tendulkar told a press conference he was disappointed not to get his double century.

Dravid wanted less time in the field, but got caught a bit betwixt and between. At tea he told the batsmen he wanted 15 or 16 overs at the Pakistanis, and after tea a couple of messages went out. As I sat there watching the innings grind on, it crossed my mind that Tendulkar needed to get a move on.

A final message went out saying they had one more over. Then Yuvraj got run out going for a quick single and Dravid called them in.

There was fault all round. I should have convinced Dravid to declare earlier and he should have grasped that it's one thing to declare when a batsman's 170 or 180, quite another when he's 194. And Tendulkar should have pushed to get there quicker.

I talked to Dravid, who agreed that he had to have a chat with Tendulkar before things got out of hand. That combination of steeliness and serenity, so evident in Dravid's batting, is the mark of the man --: nothing fazes him. He's a mature and intelligent individual, all the hype and fuss goes over his head because he can stand back and put the issue in perspective.

As for Tendulkar, he felt let down. He'd been playing for India since he was 16; he'd stood up for his country in bad times and tough conditions, and often been the only man to do so. Having given so much for the team, over such a long period, he probably thought this was one time the team could give something back to him. Even the greatest have their goals and dreams and milestones, and a double century against Pakistan in Pakistan would have been a memory to treasure. After a sleepless night, I spoke to Tendulkar who confirmed that he'd wanted the team to cut him some slack. Then he and Dravid talked it through and resolved the matter.

Sachin: Percentage Player?

There wan an ongoing issue surrounding Tendulkar -- the view was that he's become a percentage player rather than the dasher he's been as a younger man. I was often told that, in effect, he wasn't the player he used to be. The facts are, that in my time with India he scored 12 centuries in 46 Tests and averaged 60.89 and was every inch a team player.

I was was often asked how he went about coaching batsmen like him and my reply was 'I didn't coach Tendulkar, I gave him gentle advice when he asked for it'.

I once heard a player say jokingly that it took newcomers at least three or four matches to feel at ease in the dressing room, because that was how long it took to stop observing Tendulkar's every move and start relating to him as a teammate.

How Sachin Came Up Tops Down Under:

Tendulkar was having a quiet series, with just one 50. Before the Sydney Test (January 2004), we talked about his batting, which didn't happen very often as he knew his own game inside out.

In Sydney, he decided he was going to keep it very tight ... Having formulated a plan, he went out and executed it, making 241 not out... The word gets done to death, but this was an awesome display of technique and discipline. A month later his wife Anjali, who'd listened in on our conversation, got in touch to say thanks for the chat in Sydney.


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