Thursday, March 22, 2007

John Wright: Insights in bits and pieces

In his cricket playing days John Wright was a left-handed opening batsman for New Zealand. He had a decent record, nothing to set the world on fire with. He coached the Indian cricket team for a long time, propping the foundation for the reign of Sourav Ganguly. Although he put India on the right track, he had outstayed his tenure when he left – not because he was doing the wrong thing, but because Indian cricket was getting desperately jaded.

On to commentary
These days he is a cricket commentator. And his commentary is much like the personality that we’ve gleaned from his numerous press conferences of past and his recent book. It’s paternal, warm, level-headed, analytical and insightful in small ways. It’s like a warm puri on a cold day – it’s not a meal but it hits the spot at opportune times.

His special prowess
Wright’s prolonged tenure as India’s cricket coach gives him insight into all the players in the team. It helps that the wheel has come full circle of late and the players during his time are back in the saddle. Commentators have their own styles. Some - like Tony Grieg - are hyperbolic - their specialty is getting you out of your seat and dancing in front of the TV. Some – like Gavaskar - analyze each delivery or shot minutely. Yet others like Gower or Botham report on the game via freewheeling banter. Wright’s prowess seems to come from making small, insightful observations that add up to a bigger picture.

Insighful observations
During India’s recent run fest against Bermuda he made a number of them that made me sit up and listen very closely. His dissection of Sehwag’s technique was masterful in its simplicity and sagacity. Yet another time he explained to us how Ganguly can change the pace of a game with little tricks here and there, forcing a bowler off rhythm.

Wright is also very aware of the state of the game. It’s not the play by play account he is interested in but the pattern and rhythm of the game. It’s a typical coach’s way of thinking. And by letting us inside his head with his soft spoken observations, he allows us to understand the play in new ways.

Some limitations
As a commentator, Wright isn’t perfect. For one, he won’t appeal to the non-analytical cricket fan. He won’t connect with the fanatic who wants non-performers reamed on air. His voice doesn’t convey the passion or excitement of the game. But if paired with the right guy, Wright can be a terrific commentator – especially when he is on the job at one of India’s games.

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