A letter to John Wright


From across the continents, where I chew on every morsel of news on Indian cricket (it's in the DNA, you understand), I bring you pleasant tidings. You are about to be fired. Of course, not today, or next week, but shortly. Say six months. Definitely post-World Cup.

Of course, you might win it. Of course, at present there are also more chances of Sourav Ganguly being made an honorary Australian than that happening. But last fortnight, an Australian skater, coming last, won gold when the four skaters ahead of him fell over, so anything one presumes is possible.

However, back to your sacking. If Jagmohan Dalmiya, under whose benevolence you hold your post is in a good mood (which means he has just lunched on an ICC boss) he will not fire you. But ask you to resign.

You will then submit a letter and no doubt, as you have always been, you will be gracious. You will thank the BCCI for the opportunity, and say it has been a honour, and of course a learning experience, and you will politely lie that we will shortly become a great cricketing nation.

Whereupon some old timers who believe that you have been given a post that is rightfully theirs will toast your departure, and mutter, "White man come to teach us cricket, huh. Hah, speaks good English and showing computer and still team cannot bat, field, bowl."

Thereafter we shall proceed to forget you, and don't take it personally for we chew up coaches almost faster than Sachin has opposing bowlers considering alternative career options.

But my question, Mr. Wright, which has taken awhile to come, is this: when you look back, will it be with regret? And if your answer is yes, then you have failed.

When I say regret I do not necessarily mean have you failed to mould India into a better team, for you may well have done that, subtly at least, unseen from prying eyes, in some small measure. Getting India into greatness embrace, we know, is not a job for one man, it demands a revolution, in mindset, in culture, in work ethic, in organisation.

When I say regret, I mean did you do it, your way?

Did you let the selectors bully you (it's old news that you weren't invited to the recent captain's selection meeting), and the captain overrule you, and officialdom obstruct you? Did you find your ideas ignored and your plans tossed into the nearest dustbin?

Are you going to say, when it's all over, it was too hard, too chaotic, too clumsy and bureaucratic a system to be handled alone? You will be right in saying so, but then you will also just be another defeated man.

You have one last chance for your own redemption, and in it may lie ours. You could cast off your coat of decency, and decide no more Mr. Nice Guy (saying "Some of my best players are the worst fielders" was a triumphant start.)

Turn deaf to the cynics who say a white man can't understand and thus teach a brown nation? We have a chip on our shoulders, and some of it with good measure, but in this we are wrong. There are beautiful things to Indian cricket which we wish the world would appreciate, but there is some ugliness too to our game which we fail to recognise.

An outsider's perspective is not always limited, it can be insightful too. Geography is no longer a barrier to talent and good ideas. Bora Milutinovic, a Yugoslav, has led Costa Rica, Mexico, the United States, Nigeria and now China to the World Cup soccer finals; Dave Whatmore helped take Sri Lanka to World Cup victory in 1996; Rodney Marsh is in charge of an English cricket coaching academy. East German coaches have successfully journeyed to more places than we want to know. The Indian psyche, which you are presumed not to comprehend, is not all that complicated. Winning certainly is not.

Mostly we are fearful of ambition, too fascinated by kismet, too seduced by chalta hai, too slothful to ally skill with discipline. You took the team to watch Remember the Titans, you handed them a clipping on Manchester United's refusal when down to believe the season's title race was over; you bring some order to a chaotic world, motivation to a dull universe. Good for you. But there's more to be done.

Last time Dalmiya, who clearly has ambition, asked you for an explanation why India wasn't doing well (he should be giving you one: where are the pitches, the support crew, the accountability); this time don't give him a list of reasons, hand him a list of demands. Tell him, either he signs it or your release form.

Put whatever you want on it. If you want to hand your captain a dictionary with work ethic underlined, tell them to buy it. Demand a vote in selection, and that a fast bowler programme is implemented. Insist on a trainer so that Andrew Leipus can focus on treating injuries. Stipulate a sane schedule wherein there is a warm-up game before the first West Indies Test and not the lack of one. Announce that there's no point being handed a label that reads Indian coach but not the accompanying authority. Point out forcefully that we've been losing (Zimbabwe doesn't count) doing it everyone else's way, now it's time to try yours. Ruling by regional committee went out with the USSR.

Hector, yell, intimidate, berate, threaten. Don't expect them to suddenly figure out the concept of one large team working towards a common goal. We've all grown old waiting. You're going to be the fall guy, it makes sense to be assertive.

So it's not easy. So Tendulkar did not refuse the captaincy because he doesn't want the job or because he believes he's incompetent; he merely recognises the futility of the exercise in the present circumstances.

But he's got a lot riding on it. What have you got to lose? Only your job and that's going I promise.

At the 1996 Olympics, one night after the Indian hockey team were out of the medal race, I had dinner with Cedric D'Souza, the coach. He held his head in his hands all evening, a man momentarily defeated, not so much by the opposition but by his team and the system. It was a terrible sight, and a familiar one.

As a sportswriter in India, I watched Ajit Wadekar, Sandeep Patil, Madan Lal, Aunshuman Gaekwad, Kapil Dev come and go, reasonable men frustrated by a sly, suffocating system and an often somnolent team. There's a tombstone waiting for you beside them, all that matters is the epitaph. That, you get to choose. 'Went down fighting' is a useful one.

I live in Australia but my world revolves around Indian cricket. As much as I was frustrated then, I am frustrated now. I am also not alone. We're tired by mediocrity, by the sameness of it all, the endless status quo. Kiwi, take your opportunity.