When John Wright grabbed VVS Laxman and blamed him for a Test defeat
VVS Laxman was left in a solemn mood after the Kingston loss. @AFP

Former India coach John Wright’s collar-grabbing confrontation with Virender Sehwag after the India opener returned to the dressing room after being dismissed during an ODI in England is well known.

But did you know that Wright, who coached India from 2000 to 2005, also grabbed VVS Laxman and vented his frustration after India lost a Test in the West Indies?

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Laxman reveals a dressing down from Wright after defeat by 155 runs in the fifth Test against West Indies at Kingston, which gave the hosts the series 2-1. Set a target of 408, India realistically had to bat for roughly 100 overs to draw the Test. During the last hour of play on day four, Laxman was batting with Ajay Ratra when a message was sent via the 12th man from India’s coach with explicit instructions to see out the evening because rain was forecast for the final day.

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Writing in his recent autobiography, 281 and Beyond, Laxman recalls how he disregarded Wright’s instructions because he was in good form and felt he could play his shots. As it panned out, Laxman was soon temped into a pull shot off West Indian pace bowler Adam Sanford and got a top edge to depart for 23 off 39 balls.

Not long after, Harbhajan Singh was dismissed and India went into stumps at 237/7. West Indies won the match inside the first hour of play and took the series 2-1.

“As we packed out kitbags and readied to leave for the hotel, John asked me to stay back. He grabbed me by my hand and dragged me up from the changing room in the basement to the ground floor. Pointing to the lashing rain, he told me bluntly, ‘We lost this Test, this series, only because of you.’ I was shattered,” revealed Laxman in the book.

“I was India’s highest run-getter, with 474 from eight innings. I was the man of the match when we won in Port of Spain. I had got runs in tough situations, batting alongside the top order and with the tail. When I heard John blame me for the loss of the series, I was both angry and upset. I asked him how he could hold me responsible, given my form and the role I had played in the Trinidad win.”

Wright’s response left Laxman in a solemn mood, for he says he realised what was wrong with his approach.

He recalls Wright saying: “I specifically sent out a message informing you that there was forecast for rain, so just hang in there. You still went ahead and played the pull, and see what happened. All the hard work that you have put in, that the team has put in all these weeks, has gone down the drain. You put personal glory ahead of the team’s requirement. Do you still think I am wrong to blame you?”.

At a loss for words, Laxman says he mere nodded in agreement.

“As a batsman, I had felt that the ball was there to be punished and so went for my stroke. But as a team player, it was my responsibility to curb my natural instincts, and I hadn’t been able to do that when the team needed it from me,” writes Laxman. “It was just a matter of another 20 to 25 overs. We could have saved the match.

“That day, John emphatically drove home the message that it didn’t matter if you were the highest run-getter, if you were the man of the series. You had to play according to the requirements of the team, and I hadn’t done so. Chastened and humbled, I took the message on board – team before self, substance before style. No compromises.”

Until that Test in the West Indies, Laxman averaged 41.32 with three hundreds in 35 matches. In 99 subsequent Test matches since that incident, he averaged 47.76 with and scored 13 of his 17 hundreds.

Under Wright, India won an unforgettable Test series against Australia at home, drew a Test series in Australia, reached the 2003 World Cup final and won both Test and ODI series in Pakistan.