John Wright will not go down in history as one of the game’s greatestbatsmen, but he will be remembered as a batsman of strong technique, a decent range of strokes and immense courage.
For Derbyshire fans used to years of attritional batting, the Wright and Kirsten era is and will forever be recalled with a great deal of fondness. South African Peter Kirsten was the real run machine and an average of 60 at the end of each summer was par for the course. Wright was less prolific yet there were similarities between the two. Both liked to take their time in “getting in”, yet possessed an innate ability to keep the scoreboard moving while doing so. Once set, Kirsten could be a destroyer and simply take attacks apart. With his baggy cap and build he was likened to the great Donald Bradman, but the fans knew that once Wright was set he would bat and bat and bat.
In some ways he suffered in batting with his great friend as the solid technique of Wright could suffer in comparison to the more elegant, flamboyant Kirsten. Yet “Shake” as he was known (for the poor state of his cricket gear, which they reckoned he’d just shake out of his bag) was a very fine player. Not as good a left-hander as Chris Rogers, but thoroughly dependable. A record of 59 centuries and 126 fifties doesn’t lie. His average of 42 (37 in Tests) suggests a very good, rather than great player, but Wright was a fine servant to Derbyshire cricket.
His autobiography “Christmas in Rarotanga” was one of the more enjoyable cricket books in my experience and he wrote extensively on his time at Derby. Having trialled with Kent, he had a few games for our Second XI before being taken on by Eddie Barlow. For a while we had to perm one from Kirsten and Wright until Barlow retired when the two graced – no other word for it – our batting for some years of bliss. Later on he suffered from the changing regulations on overseas players and the choice became either Wright or Michael Holding. He wryly commented on the fact that many opponents seemed pleased to see him and it took a while for the penny to drop that it was because his presence meant Michael wasn’t in the side!
Added to his cricket ability, Wright was a singularly approachable man, who always had time for a word. He has since become a highly respected coach at international level, where again his humour came to the fore. Asked the most demanding part of coaching India, he replied “making sure all the practice balls are there at the end of the session”.
John Wright's greatest innings (and there was plenty of choice) was against the West Indies at Chesterfield on a real green top. Andy Roberts and co pinging them down at the speed of light and good players of fast bowling like Barry Wood and David Steele getting hit and hurt. Yet Wright batted stoically - maybe astonishingly - for 96 runs that was worth double that.
Yes, a good player was John Wright. It was my great pleasure to see him.