For John Wright, the man who first told Sachin Tendulkar that he stood a good chance of becoming the first batsman to score a century of international hundreds, the one-day innings which stood out in terms of value was not one of Tendulkar’s monumental hundreds where bowlers were taken to a slaughter house, but a determined 81.
While paying tribute to the batting champion, who called time on his one-day career last week, the former India coach reckoned that Tendulkar’s neat knock against Zimbabwe at Harare during the 2003 World Cup was an innings which helped calm a nation. “He was under considerable pressure (India were trounced by Australia in the previous game and all hell broke lose in India). Sachin had a brief press conference before that game and it was almost quite presidential in its briefness and honesty. He assured everyone that there was nothing to worry and the team members were giving it their best. Only Sachin could have sent out that message. And then to follow it up with action was just tremendous. That’s the kind of strength Sachin has,” said Wright from Christchurch recently.
Tendulkar’s 81 off 91 balls (10x4) helped India post 255 for seven before Zimbabwe were bowled out for 172.
The statement Tendulkar gave out to the media was: “We ourselves are disappointed with the kind of performance we all have put up. I also understand the disappointment you have gone through. I’m just here to assure all of you that we’ll be fighting till the last ball is bowled.”
Wright went on to state how important it was to have a player of such a reputation in the team. “We had a lot of great players in that team and then you had Sachin, the best player in the world. A lot of confidence and security comes from that. No other team has a Sachin and not a lot gets written about this.
“And not a lot gets written about having a player like him in the changing room. Now, when you have a player of such greatness, everyone gets a feeling of, ‘when we have him, we can beat anyone.’ And that’s how we felt,” said Wright, who enjoyed a good degree of success during his five-season stint as coach.
Last month, at the BCCI Awards night, Tendulkar expressed his thanks to Wright when he was felicitated by the Board for his century of international hundreds.
Wright cannot forget how it was decided that Tendulkar would open the innings in the 2003 World Cup. “Sachin always thought about what was good for the team. Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath deserve a lot of credit for bringing up Sachin’s batting position with me. We had just lost our practice game to KwaZulu Natal in Durban and when I asked Sachin where he would like to bat, he said he would bat anywhere the team wanted him to. I stressed, forget the team for a moment and tell where would YOU want to bat. I saw almost shyness from a great man before he expressed the desire to open,” Wright recalled.
The only team India lost to in that tournament was Australia (twice including the final). “We could have won that World Cup. Sachin has been a great player and I am really glad he won a World Cup (in 2011).”
During that World Cup, Wright, from close quarters, saw determination of a different kind from Tendulkar before the critical match against Pakistan at Centurion. “There was huge pressure and expectations. Remember, Sachin led India’s revival with that innings in Harare. We needed that turnaround and then to see what he did to Pakistan at Centurion was unbelievable,” said Wright of Tendulkar’s 98 off 75 balls against a powerful Pakistan attack comprising Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar.
‘Go and lagaao’
In his book John Wright’s Indian Summers, the New Zealander revealed a little conversation between Tendulkar and Sehwag as they went out to open India’s innings – Sehwag: Don’t say anything to me about my batting except ‘go and lagaao.’ Sachin: “I’m going to get these guys.”
Later on, Tendulkar went on to reveal that he endured many sleepless nights before that game against Pakistan and he batted through pain caused by a finger injury during the tournament.
Wright was delighted that he didn’t end up being the coach who blotted India’s splendid World Cup record against Pakistan. It still stands – five games and all won. In terms of sheer quality of batting, Wright chose the hundred Tendulkar scored against the Australians at Indore in 2001 when he became the first player to score 10,000 one-day runs.
“It was important to win in Indore because we lost the previous game in Pune,” said Wright.
“The wicket was not conducive for strokeplay. He tried driving and hitting the ball in front of the wicket but the track was really slow. He then completely changed his game, adopting delicate cuts and deflections. It was great to watch. I loved that innings in Indore because I could see him thinking while he was batting. It takes a great player to hold that array of strokes. I never saw that before actually. The two innings at Sharjah against the Australians in 1998 were great too, but I watched that on television.”