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Monday, 23 December, 2002, 18:05 GMT

Wright track leads home

After two years as coach of one of perhaps the most avidly-watched teams in Test cricket, John Wright could be forgiven for feeling under-whelmed on his return home.

India is crazy about cricket, either elated or distraught at each result, but in New Zealand, the sport is far more low-key, taking a back seat to rugby.

Wright was a star in the land of the long white cloud from 1977 to 1993, when he scored 12 centuries in an 82-Test career as an opening batsman.

He was part of the Black Cap side that defeated Australia for the first time in a Test series on the other side of the Tasman in 1985/86.

But the only inkling he could have had of the pressure he must now consider normal was on a tour of India in 1988/89.

Since he took the hot seat in November 2000, though, Indian fans have as often clamoured for his resignation as for his autograph.

Each slight dip in form has prompted calls for a return to the tradition of appointing a former India Test star to lead the team.

But Wright has begun to silence the critics, and a successful trip to his homeland could keep the critics quiet at least until next year's World Cup in South Africa.

His tenure began with an upset 2-1 Test series victory over all-conquering Australia.

And so far this year, India have impressed on tours of the West Indies and England, and crushed the Caribbean side at home.

In one-day cricket, seen as more important by many of the fans back home, India overcame their tendency to choke in finals, with a famous win at Lord's in June.

Sourav Ganguly's side are now considered as one of the favourites for the World Cup, but it has not been easy for Wright to put all the pieces into place.

Back to basics

On taking the job, Wright described his plan as, "A lot of practice, development in skills and a lot of hard work."

But it is far from easy to stick to the basics amidst the high politics of Indian cricket.

India under Wright
Wright has steered a resolute course through, in particular, the appointment of the controversial Jagmohan Dalmiya as president of the Indian cricket board.

In keeping the players, especially skipper Ganguly, firmly on his side he has been able to institute changes that his predecessors were only able to talk about.

A physio and a fitness trainer are now full-time features of the party, a marked contrast to the traditional belief that innate talent will always shine at the highest level.

Intense fielding drills are a staple of pre-match preparation and the standards of the team have improved as a result.

And Wright has been able to convince administrators that some Indian wickets need to be re-laid to offer assistance to a young pace bowling corps.

Still India are hamstrung by a heavy schedule, and key players such as Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan have missed recent series with injury as a result of over-work.

The team has played 29 Tests and 62 one-day internationals since Wright took change and by the time they arrive in South Africa next February they will not have had a break for 15 months.

But Wright returns to New Zealand at the helm of a side that he has played a major part in moulding into contenders for their first World Cup triumph since 1983.

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Related to this story:
Wright stays as India coach
(23 Dec 01 | Cricket)

India on the Wright track
(30 Nov 00 | Cricket)

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