John Wright’s Indian Summer reveals details of Team India’s tangles with BCCI

first_imgIndian SummerMore than their covers, books are now usually judged by their pre-release publicity. Former India cricket coach John Wright’s memoirs have produced more headlines in less than a month than the New Zealander did in five seasons with the men in blue.Other than the last of Kapil Dev’s three,Indian SummerMore than their covers, books are now usually judged by their pre-release publicity. Former India cricket coach John Wright’s memoirs have produced more headlines in less than a month than the New Zealander did in five seasons with the men in blue.Other than the last of Kapil Dev’s three autobiographies released in 2004, Wright’s is the first insider account of Indian cricket in more than a generation. It is both an insider’s version of what it is like to live and work with the country’s favourite sports team.At the same time, it is an outsider’s take on the mostly mad, sometimes bad world of Indian cricket. During his tenure as India coach, Wright observed and read, talked and listened to people in and around his team. John Wright’s Indian Summers is about cricket and cricketers, runs and wickets, victories and defeats, but also about the relationship between a country and a game.Here the Kiwi gets his first taste of the constant relationship between his captain and match referees and then runs into the redoubtable Jagmohan Dalmiya.EXCERPTSTeam talk: Wright with the squadIn Zimbabwe I got my first real experience of dealing with match referees. Before drinks on the first morning of the first test, the late Dennis Lindsay summoned me to his room to tell me that we were appealing too much-13 times in 35 minutes, he said, of which only two were upheld. I wondered why on earth he was counting. He followed this up by giving our wicketkeeper, Sammy Dighe, a talking-to at lunchtime. Our manager, Chetan Chauhan, asked, ‘What is this? Are we playing backyard, friendly cricket?’ Apparently, we were. Lindsay reminded me of my old housemaster (‘Wright, I’ll see you in my study’), but we ended up getting on well…advertisement”All those who want to do things differently are prisoners of a system they can’t crack from within.” (In Sri Lanka) Ganguly had started what was to become a habit-or perhaps trademark-of getting offside with match referees. He and I have probably spent more time in disciplinary hearings than any other captain and coach. It must have been a combination of my flawed messages and Ganguly’s blithe refusal to take the slightest notice of what anyone told him to do. His high-handedness often annoyed me but I secretly admired his rebellious streak because it gave the team some pepper and got up opposition noses, most famously Steve Waugh’s.The match referee was Cammie Smith, the name who’d let Michael Slater off scot-free when he lost his rag with Dravid in Mumbai. He accused Ganguly of abusing a Sri Lankan on the evidence of what he’d seen on TV. After the apparently damning visual evidence had been replayed ad nauseam, it all seemed to hinge on Smith’s lip-reading skills as no one would admit to having heard Ganguly say a bad word to anyone; not the umpires, nor the alleged victim, nor his batting partner. If the Sri Lankans had wanted to put Ganguly away, they could have, as it was their word against ours. But it would have soured relations between the teams. Instead, they played the game and pulled the rug out from beneath Smith’s feet. But like the Mounties, Cammie got his man. Given out leg before in the next game, Ganguly examined his bat and looked heavenwards before wending his way off the field like a man searching for his lost car keys. Smith banned him for dissent.Long before I met or spoke to him, I’d heard all about Jagmohan Dalmiya. An English county chairman called him ‘that awful man from India’. Another administrator described him as ‘a cricket terrorist’. Sandeep Patil, the ex-India batsman who coached Kenya, took the opposite tack: he reckoned I couldn’t hope to work with a better man.”Ganguly’s high-handedness annoyed me but I admired his rebellious streak, it gave the team some pepper.” Who was he and why did he matter? Well, on the first morning of my first test match as Indian coach, Tony Greig took me aside. ‘Never forget one thing, John,’ he said. ‘Jagmohan Dalmiya is the most powerful man in Indian cricket.’ It was a big statement given that the man in question hadn’t held any position in the BCCI for three years, but Greig wasn’t the only person who portrayed him in that light. Some people talked about him as if he was a master puppeteer, the man behind the scenes pulling the strings. Others portrayed him as a monarch in exile, biding his time until he was ready to reclaim his throne.advertisementTough master: Referee Mike DennessThe board elections were taking place as the tour of South Africa began. According to the rumour mill, Dalmiya was poised to sweep back into power, and if that happened, anyone with links to the previous regime could start polishing their CV because he wouldn’t be taking prisoners. Supposedly, at or near the top of his hit-list were the foreign coach and the foreign physiotherapist. The buzz was so persistent that Andrew Leipus and I concluded that if Dalmiya won, we were history. The timing wasn’t propitious either, as my one-year contract was about to expire right in the middle of the South African series.I’ve always been a bit of a worrier, but India made me fatalistic… I’d come to realise that there was no point in fretting about things that were out of my control, and what Dalmiya thought of the ‘goras’ (whiteys) with the India team certainly fell into that category. All I could do was keep doing my job to the best of my ability and get some results. Having said that, I followed the pre-election maneuvering closely via the internet-it was all about 31 votes… As we trooped into the dressing room after a tough fielding practice in Johannesburg, (manager) Dr Bhargava gave us the news: Dalmiya by 17 votes to 13. The players shrugged and went on with what they were doing. Leipus and I looked at each other and said, ‘Oh, shit’. I was out of contract and the bitter rival of the man who’d employed me was now calling the shots.The media guys started treating me as if I’d been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Six days after the election I got a fax from Dalmiya who wanted to know why the team was inconsistent, why our batsmen couldn’t turn ones into twos, and why they lost their wickets by getting “caught in the dilemmas of yes and no”. Then he got to the point: “Are these a result of natural disability or a lack of proper training programmes?” He went on to talk about India’s passion for the game, the BCCI’s moral responsibility to the public and the fact that, despite cricket being a game of “glorious uncertainties”, India needed professionalism “instead of always putting the onus on the whims of uncertainties”. He wanted Andrew and I to spell out the factors that were hindering the team’s performance and the problems we faced and put forward suggestions for addressing them…. I’d got on well with (the former BCCI president) Muttiah, but we rarely discussed my role or what was happening with the team because he preferred to use Raj Singh Dungarpur as his point man. Dalmia was ob-viously the opposite-completely hands-on.”After Dalmiya took over, I certainly sensed a difference in the way we were treated by match referees.” Our hopes of winning the second test in Port Elizabeth and my hopes of hanging on to my job were severely reduced by a balls-up for which I blame, er, the coach. We picked two spinners, then sent South Africa in to bat because it was overcast. If I’d been trying to impress my new boss with a tactical masterstroke-which I was-I’d managed instead to shoot myself in the foot. To make matters worse, this bungle was witnessed by a number of ex-Indian players in the commentary box, some of whom were founder-members of the We Don’t Want A Foreign Coach brigade, some of whom were advisors to Dalmiya, and some of whom were both. Going by the expressions on the faces of the media contingent, it was time to check into a hospice.Two days later I spoke to Dalmiya for the first time, but not about my future. The ICC match referee Mike Denness had pinged Tendulkar for ball-tampering and half the team for excessive appealing, coming down particularly hard on Sehwag. Dalmiya rang me at about 11 in the evening. He had three questions: was Tendulkar spoken to by the umpires? Was Ganguly asked to control his players? Was Sehwag spoken to by the umpires? Then he asked me to fax him my version of events immediately and said he’d leave his mobile on all night if we wanted to ring him.advertisementThe way Dalmiya handled this row sent out a very clear signal to the rest of the cricket world that from here on India wasn’t going to take any crap from any quarter. His critics accused him of inflaming public opinion and turning a cricketing issue into a post-colonial ‘us versus them’ confrontation, but from the team’s point of view it felt as if our integrity was being defended and our interests protected. I certainly sensed a difference in the way we were treated by match referees after Dalmiya took over. He replied to my report… The tone was slightly warmer, but he noted that we’d been bowled out in four hours in the second innings at Bloemfontein… Within three days of getting back to India we were playing a test against England in Mohali, which we won by 10 wickets. I was still picking up the buzz that I was on the way out. I’m not sure there would have been much point in me making the trip to Delhi to meet Dalmiya.”One manager handed out the meal allowance in the dark so that it was hard to count; another nicked official shirts.” Within minutes of walking into his suite at the Taj Palace, I knew I was dealing with a pro. Dalmiya was immaculately dressed, thoroughly briefed, and all business. There was no false bonhomie or any attempt to put me at ease; the opposite in fact. He was quite a cold fish, with a piercing gaze, but I quickly found that I could speak bluntly to him. He grasped the issues and his questions cut right to the core of the matter. I’d made up my mind in advance that I wasn’t going to be tentative or deferential. I told Dalmiya that if he wanted to get Indian cricket right, there were issues that had to be tackled whether, one remained the coach or not. I suggested he should give me some of the things I was asking for and if he was still unhappy in six months, show me the door.At the end of the meeting he said that a lot of what he’d heard about me on the grapevine seemed to be off the mark. ‘You’re quite tough,’ he said, ‘and I think perhaps we may be able to work together.’ I could have said exactly the same… That first meeting with Dalmia set the tone for our relationship. I found I could do business with him. I always told him what I thought and I knew where I stood. We didn’t always agree and I didn’t always get what I asked for- for instance, a full-time bowling coach. From time to time former Indian players would turn up at our training camps without being invited-by me. They were there because Dalmiya wanted them there.Looking back on it, I tend to think we were all prisoners of the system, even Dalmiya… I know for a fact that many coaches and former and current players want to do things differently, but they too are prisoners of a system they can’t crack from within and don’t know where to begin. The BCCI is 75 years old and so is the practice of the vote deciding every little thing… Why did we have a new manager for every tour? So that the people in power could reward an association that had voted for them by putting one of its representatives in charge of the team for a couple of months. There are jobs for the boys everywhere, but this job was too important to keep shuffling around.”The BCCI is run by people who often make bewildering decisions and don’t give a hoot what the world thinks.” Every time a new manager was appointed, I had to develop a working relationship from nothing and do it quickly. They came from a variety of backgrounds and professions- there was a Member of Parliament, a bank employee, a doctor, the owner of a trucking firm, another who owned a printing business, a civil servant with the railways, a professor of chemistry, and a fighter pilot-with varying levels of competence and efficiency. Some did everything, others did nothing. Some knew a lot about cricket, others didn’t. Some smoked and drank, others frowned on both. As a rule of thumb, the good ones had a strong cricket background that included playing for India, but administrators like Professor Shetty and Wing Commander Baladitya-who flew Mirage jets for the Indian Air Force- were excellent. I liked sitting next to Baladitya on planes, because if you hit turbulence, he could tell you exactly what was happening.Big two: Ganguly with DalmiyaIn one sense, the ideal manager was a relaxed individual who viewed the whole exercise as a junket; at least that meant I could get on with my job without interference. The worst was the bloke who had a misguided confidence in his understanding of the game and was itching to get involved in the coaching. There was Colonel Sharma, who waved his handkerchief every time we got a wicket and considered himself a yoga expert, so much so that we once had to let him take the warm-up.There was a gentleman who handed out the meal allowance money in the dark so that it was hard to count, and another who nicked the players’ official shirts. There was the manager who unilaterally changed the departure time for what would be a full day’s travelling, with the upshot that half the team was on the bus and the rest were still in bed. When Andrew and I passed adverse comment on his organisational skills, he reported us to the BCCI, and at the end of the series he made me return all the white practice balls. One guy used to slip a sheet listing the scores of players from his region under my door and another managed to lose the entire party’s meal allowance money for the last two days of a tour. Just as well aircraft meals are free. The saving grace of this arrangement was that I made some friends for life.Another by-product of the BCCI system which had a direct impact on the team was euphemistically called ‘rotation’. Rotation was the system for devising schedules and venues for home series, and was also a means of driving a bunch of more-or-less sane cricketers around the bend. Since 2001 the BCCI has followed a policy of allocating tests and ODIs among the nine Test and 24 ODI venues in a fixed order. The idea was to ensure an even spread; in practice it locked the BCCI into a rigid programme, because no one wanted to give up their turn, and resulted in some of the most lunatic travel schedules imaginable. Rotation paid no heed to geography, airline schedules, or common sense.The bizarre itineraries were compounded by baffling travel arrangements. It took three flights and a bus trip to cover the 750 km between Jamshedpur and Nagpur. We could have done it on an overnight train and saved an entire day’s travel, but that was ruled out for “security reasons”. It wasn’t quite so bad for the players because they had the happy knack, one I never acquired, of being able to fall asleep anywhere, anytime.The BCCI is an extraordinary organisation. It’s run by a handful of people who often make bewildering decisions and don’t give a hoot what the outside world thinks of them. Its half a dozen paid staff in the Mumbai headquarters are kind, friendly and amazingly loyal-one of them told a local paper he hadn’t had a raise for 35 years. Although the BCCI generates a major proportion of cricket’s total revenues, its office in Mumbai has concrete floors and a toilet that requires key access. I reckon those ramshackle surroundings are the greatest feat of camouflage since a wolf put on sheep’s clothing.last_img

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