Tuesday, 13 June 2017
Welcome (back) John Wright
The arrival of John Wright back on English and Derbyshire soil has come at the right time and will doubtless give everyone associated with the club a much-needed boost.
Besides being one of the most approachable men in the game, he is also one of the most successful. He played a key role in what was probably the best Derbyshire side that I have seen, while also becoming a highly respected opening batsman for his native New Zealand.
For those who didn't see him, John was a no-frills batsman, with the best 'leave' outside off stump that I have seen. Yet he had the shots too, sometimes unfurling them all and at others, aware of the percentage nature of some on certain wickets, he played the 'business shots' that would tick his score along and preserve his wicket, saving the drives for days when expansive strokes paid off.
There were two reason that supporters warmed to him. One was a genial nature that saw him prepared to chat to everyone. The other was his willingness to dig in and graft when conditions were not in his favour. The game is and always has been full of players who average 35-40 a summer by making big scores on shirt front wickets, but John got a lot of runs when the die were heavily loaded in favour of the bowlers.
His innings at Chesterfield against the West Indians of 1980 was one of the bravest that those who saw it will ever witness. He fell just short of a thoroughly deserved century where the ball flew from a bouncy track and the visitors attack were all out to impress and enjoy themselves. He ended the innings black and blue, but it was one of those occasions when people might have been forgiving had he failed. From the boundary edge it was like watching a boxing match where the referee was never going to step in and stop it, yet he gritted his teeth and gritted it out, becoming the stuff of legend in doing so.
He was one of our all-time greats, then became a revered coach, first with Kent in the county championship, then with his beloved New Zealand, where he oversaw a successful period in which they beat Australia in a series for the first time. Then he became the first non-Indian coach of their national side and fashioned a talented bunch of individuals into a team, perhaps for the first time. He did it by ensuring that each knew their role and how they could contribute to a winning cause, explained in greater detail in my most recent book 'In Their Own Words: Derbyshire Cricketers in Conversation'. Available from all good book shops and me, but you know that...
He then went on to coach Mumbai to winning the IPL and has subsequently acted as a talent-spotter for them, most notably seeing the potential in the young Jasprit Bumrah, who holds himself 'eternally in John Wright's debt' for giving him an opportunity and seeing possibilities that others were failing to see.
Few would complain if he spotted a similar diamond in local cricket ahead of the T20, but no one can doubt his credentials, nor the considerable coup, by Kim Barnett, that bringing him to these shores represents. He is at a time of his career where he doesn't need full-time coaching and the burdens that it brings, but his presence over this summer's T20 gives the current coaching staff and players an opportunity to learn from one of the greats, a man with a proven CV that brooks no argument.
It is no guarantee of success, of course, but offers us more than we have had, which we would all gladly take. Every season we approach the T20 in a similar manner to the impending visit of a friend and their poorly behaved children. It starts with smiles and nice words, then gradually dissipates before the end, when everyone looks at one another and says 'thank goodness that is over' as they drive away in the car.
Success for John Wright will be in turning raw materials into a team. The talent is there, but it needs someone to bring it out and sustain it over a sprawling tournament. We have proven before that we can beat good teams, but lose to poor ones with equal alacrity. There have been more false dawns than a Tony Orlando tribute night in Derbyshire T20 cricket and no one can fault the effort put in to getting it right. We have had hard-hitting batsman, talented all-rounders, quality death bowlers and, sadly, way too many under-achievers. Two talented players will improve your side, but they will rarely beat an eleven that plays as a team.
This year we have the world's best bowler in the format and an IPL regular, in Imran Tahir and Matt Henry. It strengthens our weaker suit, but we'd all still be happier if there was a means of a top order 'blaster' too. Yet teams SHOULD struggle against those two, Hardus Viljoen and Shiv Thakor, assuming the latter are fit to bowl. The question then is if we might struggle more, as our batting line-up looks short of 'oomph' at the top, unless Tom Wood becomes the find of the season or the coach has brought Brendan McCullum in his hand luggage.
I wish John well, as I am sure you all do. There are apparently stages of this competition called quarter-finals and then a 'finals day', though we have got closer to the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow than either of them before. Last season we were within touching distance...this year?
If John Wright can get us to either of them, he will cement his place in county folklore and in the hearts of supporters.
Go well John.