John Wright’s connection with India goes back a long way. As New Zealand’s premier Test batsman, he averaged the most against this country – 61.84, which is 23 more than his overall Test average. Wright’s highest Test score – 185 at Christchurch in 1990 – came against India.
A decade later as Team India’s mentor, Wright, along with Sourav Ganguly, began India’s ascend to the pinnacle of World Cricket. It was in India where Wright completed a transformation from a gritty and proud cricketer to an inspirational and respected mentor.
The New Zealander left this country in 2005 but it kept its place in his heart. Perhaps, because the relationship hadn’t ended. Perhaps, Wright was destined to return to his karma land. And he has, eight years later, to be part of the Indian Premier League.
Fittingly, Team India’s former mentor has joined Mumbai Indians, a team that belongs to the city where he spent most of his time between 2000 and 2005.
On his return to India, iplt20.com caught up with Wright for a chat. While still stunningly fit for a 58-year-old the tremble in his voice was unmistakable. And he hoped that with the wrinkles, time has also given him the gift of wisdom.
Here’s an excerpt of our interaction with Mumbai Indians’ new head coach ahead of Pepsi IPL 2013.
Welcome back to India. Are all your memories of India flashing in your mind?
It’s exciting to be back. This is a completely different challenge. Many of the people I got to know when I was here last are involved in many ways with the IPL. So it’s exciting. The biggest prospect for me is once again being part of big games in front of the huge Indian crowds. That’s something I’ve always enjoyed with passion. I’m looking forward to going back to all those grounds with the Mumbai Indians.
How did the appointment come about?
I was contacted about 3-4 weeks before the 2013 Player Auction to see if I was interested. It was an exciting call to get because I know Mumbai Indians is a big team and Mumbai is the city I spent most of my time when last I was here. To work with the Reliance family and also to work alongside Anil Kumble (Mumbai Indians’ team mentor), was an exciting opportunity.
With what kind of mindset do you embark on this totally new experience of your coaching career?
You always have your highs and your lows. This is a very competitive league and there’s a lot at stake. People will expect results – something that was similar when I coached Team India. You have to convince people what you’re trying to do will work. This is another challenge in that direction. You are required to win games and if you don’t, you go home. I’m looking forward to working with Anil, Sachin [Tendulkar] and Bhajji [Harbhajan Singh]. It’s been a long time since I know them and I’m pleased to have an opportunity to work with them again. I know the team means a lot to everyone at Reliance and Mumbai.
You’ve shared a coach-player relationship with Kumble. Now you’ll be working with him hand-in-hand to mentor MI. Will that change your equation with him?
Well, he’s my boss. It’s my advice to all the coaches to be careful how you coach your players as you might end up working for them (laughs heartily). I don’t think the equation changes in any way. I know what a capable young man he is and it shows in the way he has moved on to a different life. I’m looking forward to this new relationship. We know each other well. When I was with the Indian team, there were times when I had to choose between Harbhajan and Kumble, and sometimes Kumble missed out. We’ve been through a lot together. Now he is the mentor and I report to him and I’m very happy about that.
You still remain a coach to Sachin Tendulkar. But more than coaching him, you work with him, don’t you?
There’s a lot of that with any player-coach relationship but particularly so with great players. They have huge awareness of their own game and you’re there to help them. The shape that the help takes varies with the younger players. But all in all, it’s about forming relationships with the players you’re working with in terms of their maturity and understanding of things. It will be great to see Sachin. He’s done so many great things since I last saw him.
Many years ago you predicted that he’ll score 100 international centuries and he’s done that. Do you have any other goals for him now?
I hope he really enjoys the time with the new people in the management. I just want him to enjoy his cricket and have fun playing. I think it’s important that we celebrate the way Sachin has played his cricket and I know that Mumbai loves him. I will be encouraging him to go out there and have fun, express himself. I’m just looking forward to watching him bat for as many overs as he can bat.
How different or similar will your coaching methods be with MI as compared to those with the Indian team?
I coach the way I coach. I’m a bit older and perhaps, a bit wiser. It’s a different sort of game and I think coaching is all about creating a management group that allows and encourages the team to play without fear; to create a tough team that doesn’t have any fear of failure. A team that fights hard, works hard and prepares well. It’s just a matter of being together and working towards the common goal of winning. We’re very happy with the players we’ve signed. We have a great mix of some really exciting players who know how to win.
Have you ever been part of a team that has Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting batting together?
I think they’ll enjoy each other’s company and watching them sharing the same space is an exciting prospect in itself. There are not many teams you’ll get to watch a Ricky Ponting and a Sachin Tendulkar playing together.