India needs to be more consistent: JOHN WRIGHT

Published : Sep 29, 2001 00:00 IST


COACH John Wright first took charge of the Indian team for the home series against Zimbabwe (the host won 1-0). A high point for him was India's splendid 2-1 win over Steve Waugh's Australia. Thereafter it has been a story of missed chances in Zimbabwe and in Sri Lanka. "India did not deserve to win against Sri Lanka," he said recently, disappointed by Sourav Ganguly-led team's poor batting on a featherbed of a pitch at SSC, Colombo.

The coming triangular series and Test series in South Africa will be a big challenge for India. Wright feels that the Indian team has the wherewithal to deliver, "but they have to be more consistent."

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which appears to be pleased with his handling of the team so far, is determined to keep him until the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. That's what the BCCI President A. C. Muthiah said after the Working Committee meeting in Mumbai recently.

Wright spoke to The Sportstar about India's third tour of South Africa in 10 years.


Question: Will South Africa not be a tougher opposition than Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka?

Answer: The South Africans are tough players mentally and I think they have a formidable record at home like the Australians. They are a strong side, but then yet again it's an opportunity for the Indians to play against a top notch side.

The Indians have toured South Africa twice, once in 1992-93 and then again in 1996-97. On both occasions the Indians failed to come to terms with Allan Donald & co.

Well, that was some years ago. You can always learn by looking back, but it's time to look forward actually. I think we will have to play cricket hard mentally. The South Africans are a tough side mentally, and I would imagine they would put a lot of pressure while playing good cricket.

It's said that the South Africans are on par with the Australians in relation to the way they play the game... very intense and fundamentally very strong and always looking to get results. Even the Australians say so.

I do believe so. But hopefully, the second time around the Indians would learn from events of the immediate past and previous experiences.

The middle order chunk (except for Md. Azharuddin) is still there. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Venkatsai Laxman were in the team in 1996-97 and they still form the nucleus of India's batting.

To go to South Africa with a new side would be tough. I think experience does help. Yes, they all have been there before and their experiences will count.

The last time around, the Indians played Test matches at Kingsmead, where India was shot out for 66 and 100 and lost by 328 runs; Newlands, where India lost by 282 runs and at The Wanderers, where there was no result. This time the venues for the Test matches are Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontien and The Centurion. Do you see any advantage for the Indians?

No matter how formidable records are, teams on paper are, each game is different. If one looks at our side, if we are able to play together consistently, then we are capable of winning anywhere against anyone. We have got to have a lot of confidence in ourselves. We have got to be very positive about this trip. It's going to be tough. But we know that in Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, if they bowl to their potential which we are expecting them to do, we have two world class spinners.

The experience of Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad will help in the bowling department. The bowling has to be consistent, more than what we have been, particularly if we happen to get opportunities in favourable conditions, because they will lead the attack. Don't expect too many spinner-friendly wickets.

With regard to batting, we would need solid and consistent starts which will be a challenge to the openers. Then we will have Laxman, Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly... all class players. It's just a matter of every one playing well at the same time. So one will have to be positive about what they are going there for.

Looking at events of the recent past, India appeared good to win its first series abroad (in Zimbabwe) in many years, but it failed. Things were different in Sri Lanka, Ganguly did not really have a full strength team...

Ah... injuries happen, who is to say that injuries won't happen again. I think a team has to cope with such situations. Well, in Zimbabwe we just had one dreadful batting session for about an hour which cost us that Test match. It's sometimes hard to explain really, we needed a bit of toughness there.

In Sri Lanka the boys showed character in both the competitions - tri-series and Tests. We lost the first three games in the one-day tournament and we were always coming from behind. We clawed our way back to the final, where we did not bowl well actually. And then in the last Test we batted badly. That was not a good Test match for us.

Do you think the Indian performance will be better in South Africa if they are as focused as they were against Australia?

In India, there is a belief among the players that they will win in India. This is fantastic. We have to create that belief overseas and also the atmosphere because quite often we do not have (in foreign countries) the atmosphere we play under in India which grabs the emotions of the players, individually and collectively. And that's something we have to create internally there in South Africa. We must create that winning sort of feeling in a foreign country.

The back-up seamers for Srinath and Prasad were not as good as the frontline bowlers five years ago. Would you say things are different now?

Well, although Srinath and Prasad are getting a little bit older, Zaheer and Nehra are still very young. Khan bowled very well in the second Test (in Kandy) and Nehra has been impressive. The seam attack is looking promising. I was at the NCA (Bangalore) and we were talking about one or two other youngsters. And of course there's Ajit Agarkar and Harvinder Singh and a couple of them coming through like L. Balaji and Salabh Srivastava. So that area is looking quite good. So we will have some choice in the future.

The South Africans, too, are getting prepared. They are in Zimbabwe.

One can count on them to be very well prepared because they have a series against Australia coming up. Well, I think they have the options to pick and choose fast bowlers. That shows the advantages of having a large pool of fast bowlers. They can afford to rest them and have them in absolutely top condition for the times when they want to play them.

There's no certainty of Allan Donald playing in the series against India, he's not there in Zimbabwe because of a bout of flu.

Whoever they pick, I am sure they will have a balanced attack, with or without Donald. We just have to wait and see. It's a good thing that we are playing the one-dayers first. It will give us plenty of time to acclimatise and it will give the Test players the opportunity to take advantage of.

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