John Wright could hardly have taken the role of head coach of the national cricket side at a more testing time. The team and the sport are in the doldrums. The Black Caps have, most recently, been whitewashed in a one-day series by Bangladesh and suffered an equally dismal fate in the same format in India, even if showing more fight in the test series. As well, the only international visitors this summer are Pakistan, a team deprived of many of its top players by match-fixing allegations. If there is one thing in Wright's favour, it is that the only way to go appears to be up.

The difficulty of his task should not be underestimated, however. A side that last year was good enough to make the finals of the ICC Champions Trophy has since performed wretchedly. During that time, two coaches have been tried and dismissed, with player power being suggested as the catalyst for the departure of Englishman Andy Moles. Increasingly aberrant management structures have also been tried, with Daniel Vettori, the captain, being entrusted with powers that surely had few parallels in international sport.

Wright's coaching reputation rests on successful spells with Kent in English country cricket and, most significantly, India between 2000 and 2005. Since then, he has been involved in New Zealand Cricket's high-performance operations. His task now is very different from that in India. There, talent abounded in the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. Wright's success lay not in the technical aspects of coaching but in persuading such players to put their ability to work for the benefit of the team, a process that demanded the subjugation of a multitude of egos.

Here, his job will be to harness more modest talent while also building a team ethos. The fine New Zealand sides of the 1980s, of which Wright was a part, went a long way by using grit and determination to overcome individual technical shortcomings and provide effective support for two world-class players, Richard Hadlee and Martin Crowe. Nobody encapsulated that better than Wright, New Zealand's third-highest test run-maker. His career was built on hard work that ensured every ounce of his ability was evident at the crease.

Wright's determination not to sell his wicket cheaply made him a cult hero of his time. If anything, he enjoyed a stature denied the more talented Hadlee and Crowe. There is a lesson in this for the current crop of New Zealand players.

Clearly, there is sufficient talent in their ranks to make them competitive at any level when they are playing well. But their dreadful inconsistency betrays a lack of grit, application and maybe even endeavour. Whether this is a reflection of the fabulous money on offer in the Indian Premier League or the odd structures and even odder staff sometimes employed with the team is a moot point.

Wright's job is to get individual players approaching the game the way he did. Some will doubtless consider his methods outdated. They are not. Certain verities apply to any sport at any time. Reward for hard work and striving for constant improvement are two of them. Accountability is a third. These can be forgotten when player power gains a hold or when easy money is on offer outside the international game of cricket, especially in a country with as small a talent pool as New Zealand.

At the moment, cricket seems almost to have regressed 50 years. There is as much, if not more, interest in the Ashes series in Australia as in the tour by Pakistan. A World Cup looms in India. Overnight miracles cannot be expected but for the sake of the game, Wright must engineer a fairly quick improvement. Getting the Black Caps to approach the game as he did in his playing days would be a good start.