Aakash Chopra

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Former India opener Aakash Chopra is one of the best thinkers and writers on the game. Find out more at www.cricketaakash.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @cricketaakash

From Wright to Chappell to Kirsten

'Who told you to play that shot?' He asked angrily. 'But it was a short pitched delivery and I did get a boundary off it' replied the player, quite taken aback by the retort. 'It's not about what you achieve, but what you can help the team achieve' informed the man and ended the discussion for good.

 

He was indeed the coach who started the revolution and subsequently metamorphosized Indian cricket in a way that changed its very fabric. He started a process, a vital one, which, and it won't be unfair to say that, played a crucial role in all that Indian cricket has achieved in the last decade. Yes, I'm talking about John Wright, Team India's coach between 200–200. Of course, the player in that conversation is none but yours' truly. I had despatched Craig Macmillan's harmless half-tracker behind the square-leg region for a boundary and indeed taken immense pleasure in doing so. In fact, I'd thought that John and the others would appreciate my effort, for I had compiled my first half-century in my second Test match. But to my utter disbelief, John on the contrary, gave me an earful and reminded me of my role in the side and how it wasn't about reaching personal milestones but putting the team's requirement ahead of my personal ambitions. That's what John Wright instilled in every player of the Indian cricket team. A team of matured and highly skilled individuals doesn't need someone to correct their technical flaws (that too from time to time) but more importantly someone who helps them fulfill their potential and at times, punch above their weight.

 

To put things in perspective it's important to go back a couple of decades to really understand what Wright brought to the team. Those were the days when we had our own ex-cricketers coaching Team India. While I'm neither contesting nor critiquing their contribution or their ability, but there was, undoubtedly, a sense of unprofessionalism about the entire set-up. The coach would never tell the 'star' (read senior) cricketers anything, while gave vent to his anger and frustrations by lashing out at the juniors. There was an obvious hierarchy which demarcated everyone's position and roles in the team, of course going by the seniority in the side. There was also a sense of parochialism because invariably the coach would speak to the players from his state or zone in their local language which left others wondering. This set-up ensured that the team rode on individual brilliance and not on team effort and hence the good performances were sporadic too.

 

Then John Wright happened to India and the change was brought in. Though he understood the Indian model pretty well and accommodated a few whims too but largely managed to instil the sense of professionalism in the team. Roles were no longer based on the seniority but on the skill level. Sehwag, though a junior, was not only allowed but also encouraged to play his brand of cricket. Dravid, a lot senior than Sehwag, was told to anchor the innings together and not get carried away. The biggest challenge a coach faces is to know what a player isn't equipped to do, rather than what he can do. There must have been a huge temptation to change the way Sehwag plays to ensure consistency, for you know that tighter technique could do wonders. But as a coach, you must detach yourself, even from your age-old beliefs, and see the individual with a new perspective. Curbing Sehwag would have nipped his career in the bud but encouraging him gave India a match-winner instead.

 

Besides this Wright also kept the hunger alive in the players and never took his eyes of the ultimate goal i.e. making Indian Team a global force. India had always been an invincible side at home but its record overseas was abysmal. With him, the team took the vow to change that. And once we started winning Test matches abroad, he raised the bar. I remember him telling us not to party after the Multan victory; the real job was to win the series.

 

John handed over the baton to Greg Chappell and everyone is aware of what happened next. But contrary to the popular belief, Greg did bring a lot to the table and in fact played a key role in shaping Indian cricket. He may not have been the best man-manager but his knowledge about the game is second to none. He may not have understood the intricacies of working in India but he did have an eye for talent. It was in his regime which gave us players like Dhoni, Raina and Gambhir. Unfortunately though, we as a nation are more prone to judging people by the results they achieve, paying little attention to the process. Had Greg won the World Cup 2007 or someone like John Buchanan won the IPL for his Team, we would have hailed them as the best thing to have happened to India and the IPL. We must allow people to think out of the box and also give them a chance to fail.

 

Coaching a national team is not about correcting players' technique or chalking out plans, that too but more importantly about creating personal relationships with every single member of the team and making them, both as individuals and as a team realize their potential. The real challenge for a coach is to remain fluid and not treat everyone uniformly. It may sound absurd or smell of favouritism but what I mean from this is that no two individuals are the same and what makes one person tick might bring the other person down. You must speak to every player in the language which they understand and by language I mean the way you treat someone. A player like Gambhir would be at his best when you give him the confidence, while someone like a Kohli would thrive if you throw a challenge at him. Some people like to take on responsibility and some perform their best when they are led. Gary Kirsten has managed to do all this and hence commands great respect and love from this team. It's not often that we see the entire team dedicating such an important win to their coach especially when he happens to be a foreigner.

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