The unsung heroes

They are the unsung heroes. They don't receive awards. They always remain in the backstage. Cricket coaches are not like soccer coaches, who always hog the limelight.

G. VISWANATH

They are the unsung heroes. They don't receive awards. They always remain in the backstage. Cricket coaches are not like soccer coaches, who always hog the limelight.

Sachin Tendulkar, coach John Wright and Rahul Dravid discuss a point during a practice session in Cape Town. The Indian players respect John Wright. — Pic. REUTERS-

Cricket coaches are only answerable to their respective cricket boards. They do all odd jobs, like pitching the stumps and placing plastic cones during the practice session. As soon as the workouts are over, they clear the area. These men are the last to leave the field, just before the captain goes out for the toss.

Australia's John Buchanan, India's John Wright, Kenya's Sandeep Patil, Sri Lanka's Dav Whatmore, New Zealand's Denis Abelhart, Zimbabwe's Geoff Marsh are all taskmasters in their own way. These men helped their teams to reach the Super Six in the on going World Cup. On the other hand, West Indies's Roger Harper, England's Duncan Fletcher, Pakistan's Richard Pybus and South Africa's Eric Simmons had a miserable time, with their teams making an exit in the first round itself.

Buchanan leads a bunch of aggressive cricketers who have been reared in a system, where the demands are high. The Aussie coach has played in seven first class matches for Queensland. The righ-arm medium pace bowler later turned into a coach. He was the coach of Middlesex in 1998, before he took over the Australian team in October 1999, after Geoff March completed his term.

It's been a success story for Buchanan. "The last two years have been a fantastic experience. We have had a great deal of success so far, but now the challenge is to raise the bar again and we will be trying to do just that, as well as looking to maintain the high levels of performance we have achieved over the past two years. We have also got tangible targets to aim for. We will be going out in a positive way to secure a second successive World Cup title in South Africa in early 2003,'' he said before the World Cup, after completing his first two- year contract.

Australia Test captain Steve Waugh praised Buchanan's contribution. "One of the main reasons we have had such a high level of success over the past two years has been Buck's efforts behind the scene. He has the excellent cricketing knowledge you would expect of someone at international level, but he has also encouraged us to look at things differently and challenge the way we have played the game in the past. It is that sort of approach that will allow us to keep taking the game forward and I am really pleased to be continuing with John,'' said Steve Waugh.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) appointed New Zealand's John Wright following his success story with Kent. Sourav's Ganguly, then on a contract with Lancashire and Rahul Dravid playing for Kent, in the year 2000, strongly backed the appointment of Wright. His contract expires with the BCCI after the World Cup, but is renewable. It must be said that Wright has been able to produce results. The high point in his two-year term with the Indian team was winning the NatWest Trophy as well as the ICC Champions Trophy in England and Sri Lanka respectively.

Wright believes that cricket is a simple game, and feels the pride and passion for the country should be the driving force. He knows the popularity of the game in India as well as the strength of the Indian team. The players listen and respect him and have acknowledged his contribution to their individual success.

"We will gain momentum once we enter the Super Six,'' said Wright at a press conference at the Taj, Mumbai before leaving for South Africa.

Kenya owes a lot to its coach, Sandeep Patil, who was India's coach for one year, before the Board replaced him with Madan Lal. Patil made headlines during his playing days with the Indian team. He was felled by a Len Pascoe delivery during a series against Australia but bounced back and made a brilliant century at Adelaide. Thereafter, he pummelled England bowlers in a Test series in England. He was part of the Indian team that won the World Cup in 1983, scoring a quick half-century against England in the semi-final. He hit some glorious shots off fast bowler Bob Willis in that match. Well, Patil has travelled a long way since smashing sixes off club bowlers at the Kennedy Seaface in Mumbai. He enjoys working with the Kenyan team as much as visiting Kilamanjaro Wildlife Park. He has Andy Kirsten, brother of South Africa's Peter and Gary, to assist him for a while now. It's always said that like Ajit Wadekar, Patil is a lucky man.

The Kenyan cricketers, from Maurice Odumbe to Steve Tikolo to Collins Obuya, will vouch for his immense contribution as a coach and a man. Patil as a human being is fantastic. He is always witty. This must have gone down well with the Kenyans, apart from his ability to impart knowledge to the cricketers who have played for the country since being awarded the one-day status by the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Perhaps, the ICC can utilise Patil's services for the development of the game in associate member countries. But the Indian might just be around with Kenya and work further to consolidate the gains made in the World Cup.

Whatmore has helped Sri Lanka win the World Cup in 1996, but then the strong man of the Sri Lankan team then was its captain, Arjuna Ranatunga. Whatmore spent two years with the Red Rose county Lancashire, after Sri Lanka's World Cup success, but he has not been as lucky so far after his return to Colombo for the second time, after Ranatunga's team was eliminated in the first stage itself in 1999 World Cup in England.

The Kiwi coach Aberhart maintains a low-key profile. But he will stay with the team even after the World Cup.

Buchanan will keep his job and so will Patil and Aberhart. Wright's fate is not known. These coaches have given their best and will have nothing to regret. They will remain the unsung heroes.