Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Wright man for the job

At the beginning of this month John Wright announced that he was not going to be seeking an extension to his contract as coach of the New Zealand cricket team. He will be standing down from this role following the end of the Black Cap's tour to the West Indies in July/August. No doubt a number of factors influenced this decision, and it looks as if it was Wright's to make. It seems that New Zealand Cricket (NZC) don't want him to go, with Chief Executive David White quoted as saying "we were keen to see him continue his head coach role, however understand and respect his decision to look for another challenge." I can only speculate as to the reasons, although rifts between him and Director of Cricket, and former Australian coach, John Buchanan have been suggested. Wright himself has said that he and Buchanan have different philosophies and approaches to the game, so it looks likely that this contributed at least in part to his decision not to continue in the role.

When Wright was first appointed as coach I had a great deal of optimism about the future of the Black Caps. He was a gritty and determined opening batsman for New Zealand for many years, and was half of what was arguably our most successful opening combination at test level. He and Bruce Edgar opened the batting together from 1978 to 1986, and scored a total of 1655 runs at an average of 31.82. This is only the 27th best opening pair in the history of cricket, and it is some measure of the relative weakness of New Zealand's record in test cricket that we remember them so fondly. Wright was also a very successful first class cricketer, scoring over 25,000 runs at an average of 42.35. 

After retiring from the game he took a brief hiatus for a couple of years and then moved in to coaching. It was as head coach of India that he really made his mark. He oversaw a remarkable rise in Indian cricket from 2000-2005, during which time they had series wins against Australia and Pakistan and made the final of the 2003 Cricket World Cup. That the Black Caps had their first test win in Australia for 25 years under his watch suggests he was making real strides with the team, and keen observers could see an almost palpable difference in the way the team approached the game.

Wright comes across as a no-nonsense kind of fellow, one who wouldn't suffer fools gladly, and I suspect that he tackles coaching with a fairly old-school approach, focussing on basic skills and fitness. Rumours abound that he was feeling disenfranchised by the management style at NZC and that he felt he was spending too much time writing reports and attending meetings. This type of new age management style doesn't go down terribly well with a lot of kiwis, and it is likely that Wright is one of them. I am deeply disappointed that he felt it necessary to stand down, and the Black Caps will suffer from his loss. Personally I think NZC made a huge mistake appointing Buchanan and putting in place systems that alienated Wright, and I'm sure they will rue this decision in seasons to come. I hope they will be able to find someone for the coaching role who will build on the good work Wright has begun, but I won't be holding my breath.

Thanks for the memories John, you'll be missed by true cricket fans.

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