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Be Indian, undermine the Indian team

By Faisal Shariff
April 04, 2003 20:46 IST
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"It is a pity that despite India having coaches of the calibre of Sandeep Patil, we have to import the likes of John Geoffrey Wright."

So said former Test great and captain of India's 1983 World Cup-winning squad, Kapil Dev Nikhanj, on television this morning.

The statement should come as no surprise. This campaign, fronted by Board of Control for Cricket in India president Jagmohan Dalmiya and endorsed by some of the most illustrious names in Indian cricket, to get rid of the 'foreign coach' has been going on for a long time now.

Dalmiya in fact tried to get rid of Wright last September; only a near revolt by senior players in the Indian ranks, led by captain Sourav Ganguly himself, prevented him from axing the New Zealander.

It is no surprise, too, that Kapil Dev spearheads the call. In recent times, the former all-rounder has emerged as Dalmiya's front man. Thus, when it was necessary to file a public interest petition to stall certain moves by the International Cricket Council, it was Kapil who did the needful. And now that Dalmiya finds it necessary to make moves on Wright, it is Kapil again who, from the pedestal of his former greatness, fronts that call.

Before examining the merits of the case Kapil makes, it might be interesting to examine the merits of the man making the case. While there is no dispute about the Wisden Indian Cricketer of the Century's cricketing credentials, his coaching curriculum vitae is another story altogether.

As coach, Kapil has the dubious record of masterminding India's first home series defeat in 13 years, to South Africa, when India lost the Bombay and Bangalore Tests to end its unbeaten home run.

Just a year later, the 'import', John Wright, was back-stopping the same side to a fantastic series win at home that halted the seemingly invincible Australian juggernaut, and ended Steve Waugh's record run of 16 Test wins on the trot.

Since that date, India's performance has improved consistently. After 16 years, India won an away Test; in fact, India has under Wright won at least one Test in every away series it has played in.

India also made it to the final of the World Cup, for the first time after 1983.

John WrightImpressed? Others are. Thus, after losing to India in a Super Six game, Sri Lankan coach Dave Whatmore underlined the drastic changes Wright has brought into Indian cricket. It was Wright who broke through the parochial mindset that, till then, had seen players from one zone sticking together, and introduced the culture of 'Team India', a unified entity that buried parochialism and prided itself on its oneness.

It was Wright, again, who introduced the traditionally lazy Indian cricketer to the culture of fitness. It was Wright who emphasized the need for fitness training, and arm-twisted the most parsimonious sports body in the world into investing in a physio and physical trainer, a policy that has resulted in the notoriously slack Indian team now taking its place as one of the fittest on the circuit.

So dramatic was the change in the team's fitness level that Kapil's own predecessor as coach, Anshuman Gaekwad, alleged that the Indian players were on steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. "I saw Andrew Leipus giving the players some powder mixed in milk," he claimed. It turned out to be the everyday protein shake, Myoplex.

Kapil and Gaekwad are not the only ones to have had a swipe at the 'imported' coach. Check out former great Dilip Vengsarkar, who in his Cricketnext.com column

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Faisal Shariff

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