John Wright’s Indian Summers stands somewhere between being an honest instruction manual for Indian cricket (at best) and at worst, a pretty long tour diary. Forever though, this book narrates the culture clash the author faced during his tenure as a high-profile foreign coach of the most-followed cricket team in the world.
The promotion of this book, it must be said, was smart. Penguin laid the bait for news-starved newsmen by releasing snippets which did nothing more than repeat what, at some point, these very news-starved newsmen might have said or written. Be it the Multan declaration controversy or Wright’s bust-up with Virender Sehwag, no mystery is unraveled. In fact, at any opportunity he gets to say something yet unsaid, he chooses to leave it as obscure as the origins of grandma’s stories. Much as you try to view this as a controversial book, you find that Wright has covered all his bases well.
This, is the strength of the book. It does not want to piggy-back on cheap confrontational postures. There are no villains or heroes. When VVS Laxman was dropped for the 2003 World Cup, “he felt let down, and most of that sense of betrayal was directed at me,” he writes. In such passages, Wright doesn’t make a great fuss. Of course, Laxman is going to be disappointed with the coach, but that is the predicament of being in some sort of power in a team, he means. He could quite easily have blown his disputes with the board or with Ganguly out of proportion… and it would be reasonable too. But Wright is careful not to make it a vulgar bestseller, and after all, that’s not the point.
Then, what is the point?
It would be a travesty to shelf this book as an old man’s tour diary. Wright may not have been the most voluble of coaches, but he was honest to his job. He called a spade a spade, albeit behind closed doors. He seemed to ignore the politics of the board. And he felt strongly for players like Laxman and Mohammad Kaif, who, he admits, got the rough end of the stick more than once.
The most important aspect of this book, with respect to Indian cricket, is that Wright lays bare some fundamental and some astonishingly neglected problems.
The issue of selecting managers for tours is something not many have even thought of. Why, he asks, can’t the board give a longer run to team managers? Managers are expected to provide a cover for the team and staff on tours so as to let them concentrate on their job. But even in this “professional” age the BCCI has entered, it was Wright and his trainers who at times had to look after the peripheral activities like making travel arrangements! And not surprisingly, what they got as manager were fellows who would irritatingly impose coaching lessons.
Wright was also dissatisfied with the ad-hoc methods of the board and Ganguly. It was without his knowledge that Sunil Gavaskar was called in as “consultant” when Australia came here and beat India in 2004. It must have been humiliating for a man who too was a stubborn opener with, although, lesser ability. But this was Indian cricket! And this is John Wright, who resists the temptation to launch a tirade, but just tells the facts as they happened.
He has, inevitably, a few things to say about the proverbial “bunch of jokers”. But then, what is new? The criticism of the zonal selection system is so comprehensive that it is perhaps being persisted with only for sentimental value. Again, Wright is instructive, not bitter.
Paul Thomas and Sharda Ugra are co-writers of this book. Thomas seems instrumental in the initial chapters (Wright struggled to come to terms with retirement and took up a routine job), which are told with a sharp sense of humour and at this point the book is almost unputdownable.
Ugra is conspicuous in large sections of the book which describe the role of cricket in India (covering everything from endorsements and globalisation). She also helps in the touching chapter that narrates the struggles of an average Indian child’s quest to become a cricketer of repute. However, this could as well have been a feature article in India Today! So much for exotic India, that it is Wright who attempts the tight-rope walk.
Who is his target reader?
He wants to tell his fairy-tale to his mates in New Zealand. He also wishes to show a mirror to the Indian fan, cricketer and administrator. This means he has no margin for error. If he went for the jugular and overcame this challenge, his book would be a classic – the story of a man torn between two cultures, but entrusted with a job as complex as any. The perils of failing though were huge. His book would end up as a cluttered autobiography which says too little of too many things. He kept it simple and chose the middle path. A book that is factual, autobiographical and effective; a book that is as much about John Wright, as it is about Indian cricket; but not entirely about himself, or entirely about Indian cricket. It is both for the New Zealander and for the Indian cricket fan, cricketer and administrator, if they so care to read.
For a man who went about his job for many months without an official contract, he improved Indian cricket. He was helpless at various points but his diligence and honesty was always appreciated. John Wright might not be remembered for Indian Summers, but he will be remembered as a man who taught the Indian cricket team to travel well.