The role of a coach in cricket is very different from a lot of sports. Just the idea of a head coach is something that came into existence some 40-odd years back. With the captain being in-charge most of the times and holding the reins of the team, the coach’s job mostly remained undefined. Yet, we have seen a lot of instances in cricket where a coach-captain combination has changed the whole complexion and risen it to levels unheard of. On John Wright’s, the former New Zealand batsman and one of the most successful coaches in world cricket, 66th birthday we look into five such coach-captain partnerships that changed the fortunes of their side.
John Wright-Sourav Ganguly: One of the most important chapters in Indian cricket was when John Wright was appointed coach of the national team in 2000. India were in a state of complete turmoil at the time. The match-fixing scandals had left a glaring hole in the reputation of the team, Sachin Tendulkar had stepped down as the captain and a lot of questions remained unanswered. Around the same time when Wright was appointed coach of the national team Ganguly was named captain. The duo then not only won the faith of their fans back but also changed the whole complexion of the team making them a successful outfit in home and away conditions.
A number of young faces made way into the team and had the captain-coach’s backing. Yuvraj Singh became the new talk of the town, Zaheer Khan oozed class, Mohammad Kaif upped the fielding standards of the team like never before, Harbhajan Singh became a world-class spinner, Virender Sehwag turned into one of the most destructive openers the world has ever seen. And all this under Ganguly-Wright’s watch. Even the likes of Tendulkar and Dravid assumed new roles in the side and were mighty effective. But undoubtedly the most important achievement of the Ganguly-Wright was how India, who lacked self-belief in crunch situations and threw in the towel, suddenly adopted a steely resolve.
India defeated the all-conquering Australian side in the famous 2001 Test series, then there were Test wins in England and Australia while they also defeated Pakistan in their own backyard in 2004. The Men in Blue reached the final of the 2000 Champions Trophy, were the joint-winners in 2002 edition, won the Natwest Trophy final in 2002 chasing the then highest target in ODIs and reached the final of the 2003 World Cup for the first time in 20 years.
John Buchanan-Steve Waugh: One of the most dominant and potent coach-captain partnerships the world of cricket has ever seen, John Buchanan and Steve Waugh took Australia to soaring heights. Waugh was named captain of the national team in 1999 and led the side to World Cup victory. Later that year, in October, Buchanan was roped in as the coach of the national team and thus formed a partnership that would make Australia the biggest team in the world.
Make no mistake, Australia were still the powerhouses in world cricket when the duo forged their partnership but under the two, the team Down Under became the Invincibles. The Buchanan-Waugh regime started with a huge win over Zimbabwe in Harare. Thereafter, Australia white-washed Pakistan, India, West Indies and New Zealand back-to-back to make it 15 wins out of 15 Tests they played under the Buchanan-Waugh combination. A series loss in India would have hurt but they roared back with series wins against England, South Africa (twice), Bangladesh, Pakistan, England, West Indies, Zimbabwe, and India. In the 38 Tests of the Waugh-Buchanan partnership, Australia won an astounding 27, drew 5 and lost only 6 matches.
“I saw him [Buchanan] more as a ‘performance manager’ than a coach, in that he would address a variety of issues, many not necessarily cricket related, and would endeavour to have each player prepared for his cricket with a clear mind so that the actual playing side would be easier. With Buck and me on a similar wavelength, both of us wanting to provoke, stimulate and challenge the members of the team to be the best they could possibly be, we set about putting a healthy work environment and a strong framework in place,” Waugh wrote about Buchanan in his autobiography.
Bob Simpson-Allan Border: One of the most notable and important phases in Australian cricket was when Bob Simpson was appointed the coach of the national team in 1986. Along with Allan Border, Simpson transformed a demoralized unit who were at their lowest and made them world-beaters. Like his tenacious batting and captaincy, Simpson was an able coach too and in Border, he found a persona who was similar to his. Simpson and Border together helped Australia build a foundation that saw them dominate proceedings in cricket for years to follow.
The captain-coach duo instilled a number of raw young talents into the system and made them into shining diamonds. Border was made captain of the Australian side in 1984 but it was not until Simpson was made head coach that the Aussies really flourished. With Border leading the way, Australia won their first-ever World Cup in 1987 beating England in the final at Eden Gardens. They became the first Australian side since 1934 to win back the Ashes in England thrashing the hosts 4-0. Australia then beat West Indies away and then once again beat England in the Ashes in 1993.
“We definitely weren’t as good a cricket team before Bob came along. Bob was very adamant about getting everyone on the same page, as far as attitude was concerned. Everyone had realised that his changes would have a positive effect, everyone was on board, and we started to see that it was making us better,” Border wrote about Simpson in his column for AthletesVoice.
Mickey Arthur-Graeme Smith: Probably one of the most important coach-captain combinations in the history of South African cricket, Mickey Arthur and Graeme Smith together helped the country reach success across formats in cricket like the country had never seen before. Still coming to terms with the match-fixing scandal that had torn apart South African cricket, Graeme Smith at age 22 and only seven Tests old was appointed captain in 2003. The aim was to have a captain who did not have any association with Hansie Cronje, who was banned from international cricket in 2000 following the infamous match-fixing episode.
In 2005, Arthur was appointed coach and in the next five years, he alongside Smith made South Africa an unbeatable side. Both Smith and Arthur did not have a lot of experience when they got together. Smith was just 24, still understanding the nuances of captaincy while for Arthur this was his first international coaching experience. This inexperience somehow got the team closer. With nothing to lose, they gelled a side which in the years to come would have some of the biggest names the sport had ever seen. The likes of AB de Villiers (T20I), Hashim Amla (ODI and T20I), Dale Steyn (ODI and T20I) and Morne Morkel (Test, ODI and T20I), all made their debuts during this coach-captain partnership and were given the appropriate grooming.
South Africa defeated Australia at home in a five-match ODI series in 2006, the final of the series seeing the hosts overhaul a mammoth chase of 434. From thereon it was South Africa that ruled the roost for the next few years. There were back-to-back Test and one-day series wins against India and Pakistan at home followed by a Test series win in England after 43 years. A Test series win in Australia also came as South Africa at one point were ranked No.1 in both Tests and ODIs.
Duncan Fletcher-Nasser Hussain: The 90s were a grim time for England. They had three different captains through the decade and while each of Graham Gooch, Michael Atherton and Alec Stewart were impressive batsmen, as captains they did not exude the same confidence. It was then in 1999 after a disastrous World Cup campaign at home that Nasser Hussain was made captain, a move that saw a resurgence in English cricket. Around the same time, Duncan Fletcher was made coach of the national side and the duo who in a lot of ways were contrasting in nature turned the face of England cricket.
In their first stint together as captain-coach, England lost a keenly-fought Test series in South Africa. Thereafter England won four successive Test series, against West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. They rose to the third position in the official ICC Test Rankings and suddenly became a force to be reckoned with.
The contract system was also introduced under the Fletcher-Hussian regime, one that gave players a lot more security. The likes of Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, James Anderson, Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard and Simon Jones all made their Test debut under Fletcher-Hussain. The trust between the duo was clear as whoever Fletcher looked to incorporate into the side was met with a welcoming nod from Hussain, Trescothick and Anderson being primes examples.