John Wright, who had a memorable stint as India coach for five years, started missing the country to a point that he sounded as if he regretted saying goodbye to his India coaching job in 2004-05.
Even coaches have their shelf life and ideally, the bosses of Indian cricket ought to have roped him in to head the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore after guiding Sourav Ganguly’s team.
But Wright probably went off their radar and got involved with New Zealand cricket. A few years ago, he was in the running to become coach of Kolkata Knight Riders when John Buchanan ended his controversial term.
A phone call from Mumbai Indians’ mentor Anil Kumble before the sixth edition of the Indian Premier League meant that Wright’s yearning to be associated with Indian cricket again had ended positively. He was soon crowned head coach of the franchise. The 58-year-old former New Zealand captain spoke to MiD DAY yesterday on what it took to win the IPL on debut.
You kicked off your first year with Mumbai Indians with an IPL victory. Do you get the is-this-really-happening-to-me feeling?
I must admit feeling so for the first 24 hours (after Sunday’s win over Chennai Super Kings). The feeling at the start of the competition was, we’ve got to qualify. There are no easy teams. It wasn’t going to be easy because we had a couple of losses here and there. I had read about the IPL, followed it and wanted to experience it, but I didn’t realise how tough each game was going to be. When you finally win it and then remember all those initial feelings, you say, ‘wow, we’ve actually won it.’ So yeah, it has sunk in. I always thought we had the team to win it as long as we played together and were happy. I am very pleased that we have won it for Mumbai.
You can now tell us how you got the job as head coach…
Anil Kumble is my boss. He rang to ask whether I would work with him at this franchise. We have always kept in touch and quite frankly, I couldn’t think of a better boss to work for. I have always had a great relationship with Anil and there couldn’t be a better opportunity to work in the IPL. I was very keen.
What struck you about the IPL?
It’s a fantastic cricket competition. I know there has been some controversy, but I never realised how great the atmosphere would be. The owners have been very passionate and supportive. We won all our home games in front of capacity crowds. We play for the city. We wanted the fans to feel proud and say this is their team. That’s the big satisfying aspect. It was great to come back to places like the CCI. What a pity Raj Singh Dungarpur is not around to see this. I think he would have loved it.
What do you remember of your first formal meeting with the team?
A lot of us didn’t know each other. We knew each other by reputation and what you read. I hadn’t met Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Smith or knew Ricky Ponting really well. I knew the Indian boys so it was a matter of moulding us together as a group and that is what we tried to do.
How would you rate Rohit Sharma’s leadership?
It’s been outstanding. He fitted into the job like it’s been a glove he has worn for many years. I think he is going to develop more. He has been hugely impressive in the way he has led the players on the field and it seems to suit him too. He is a Mumbai boy too and we talked about that when we decided to make him captain. He is one of those boys who does not make a big song and dance of things, but he has a lot of leadership potential and ability. That showed and I am pleased we made that decision.
It’s high time he plays Test cricket, you reckon?
I think Rohit Sharma and Ambati Rayudu merit selection. Karthik too and he’s played Test cricket. Rohit and Rayudu are of very high quality.
Did you get your guitar along this time?
Yeah, but there’s been so much travelling that I had to leave it at the hotel room in Mumbai. We were so busy that I didn’t want to knock it around so I kept it in the room.
Have you come to realise the difference between coaching India and a franchise?
It is very different because things happen suddenly. You’ve got to bring together a lot of players with different cultures. It is a bit of a melting pot so it is different and has different challenges.
Was Ricky Ponting’s catch to dismiss Delhi’s Unmukt Chand at the Wankhede Stadium the best you’ve seen?
No. I thought Kieron Pollard’s catch to dismiss Shaun Marsh was unbelievable. But the one I really enjoyed was the one from Pollard that dismissed Dhoni in Chennai. There was no way we were going to win that game until he took that catch. I think Pollard won three games on his own for us this year so he has been a very special part of our team.
And the bowlers?
We had outstanding performances from our two opening bowlers. Our two spinners have done very well, particularly Harbhajan Singh. People who say to me that he is a spent force for India surprise me. I think he is has been the best all-round spinner in the competition with his batting. And to work with him again was great because remember, we started together. He is still a fighter. He needs a bit of confidence. Hopefully, he is knocking on the door (for a recall).
Who took the call to have captain Ponting sit out?
Anil and I did. We had lost to Delhi and Rajasthan Royals so we had lost two on the trot (April 17 and 21). We knew that our bowling wasn’t strong. We had to sort that out and Ricky hadn’t got runs. We had Kieron Pollard and we wanted to play the two quicks and Dwayne Smith in Kolkata. It was a matter of getting our bowling right and to be honest, that was when we started winning. We never really looked back from then.
Which West Indies player does Pollard remind you of?
To be honest, I don’t think I have seen anyone tap sixes like he does. He just taps it and it seems to go almost out of the stadium. Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd are the closest, but in his own right he hits the ball further than anyone I have ever seen apart from Chris Gayle.
You had two of the world’s leading run-scorers on your bench for the final. On a lighter note, did you get a feeling of redundancy?
Working out in the background to see how it fits together is important. You can’t have too many chiefs. Winning cricket games is a bit like a jigsaw. You’ve got all the pieces and you have to work out how to put them together. I also look at cricket coaching like baking a cake. You have all these ingredients and you’ve got to work out how it all blends together.
You also need luck…
Oh gosh, yeah! We had luck. We worked hard. We had Paras Mhambrey working with the boys who were not playing. I think there was only one day in the competition where I didn’t go to the nets. You make your own luck; the harder you work, the luckier you get.
What did you say to yourself when you discovered on the morning of May 16 that players from your opposition team were picked up by cops?
I was surprised. I didn’t ever think that over (from Ankeet Chavan) was sort of…. I just thought Glenn Maxwell hit two sixes. It never crossed my mind, to be honest. What I do think is that in any environment, any competition there are a few things that happen that you have to fix and I hope that is fixed. It is very easy for people from the outside – a lot of them have never experienced an IPL match – to make a judgement. As I said before, it is a great league and it’s very tough. Every team is extremely motivated to win apart from one or two bad eggs. To be part of a winning team here is right up there with one of my most special memories of cricket.
Do you feel sorry for Rahul Dravid?
Yeah! They are a good franchise, a good team and have done very well. I know it was a big blow to them and those people need to go out of the game and they will. We don’t want that (spot fixing) as a part of our game. But things happen in any sport and it is just a matter of having laws and consequences to deal with those who don’t want to play by the book.