Fletcher has a lot to answer

With India's fortunes plummeting in overseas Tests, coach's role is under scanner

Fletcher has a lot to answer

As English bowlers were crushing the Indian batsmen like rotten twigs on the third day of the fourth Test at Old Trafford, cameras zoomed in on Duncan Fletcher, watching the dreadful procession from the dressing room.

What was in his mind? Anger? Disappointment? It was impossible to pierce through that thick sunglass and have a peep into his mind. Emotionlessness has been Fletcher’s hallmark since becoming the Indian coach after the 2011 World Cup, in win or defeat. But time has now come for Fletcher to shed his taciturnity.

After playing a wonderful Test match at Lord’s, India have lost the next two at Southampton and Manchester by massive margins, playing meek cricket and Fletcher owes an explanation. Yes, his contract, apparently, has a clause ensuring him limited interaction with the media. So, we have no direct medium to find out about his thoughts and activities.

Often, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni or some other players detail the work Fletcher puts in through their press interaction. Even during his highly successful stint as England coach from 1999 to 2007 Fletcher was terse with the media and was hardly visible.

“Duncan loved to keep his cards close to his chest. It was not because of any fear of leak or something like that but he just preferred an understated way. He loved to keep away from limelight, and work,” said Matthew Maynard, who worked with Fletcher as an assistant coach during his England tenure.

It worked well for him as England coach as in those eight years the team notched up victories over South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Australia, underlining his coaching credentials. 

Fletcher came into the Indian set-up on the recommendation from his predecessor Gary Kirsten and with a reputation of being one of the best around for the job. India were on a high after winning the World Cup, and they were also the world’s top Test side. But he inherited an ageing side and it soon revealed during India’s disastrous tours to England and Australia where they lost eight Tests by resounding margins. It consumed a clutch of big names as India entered the inevitable transition phase.

Here, Fletcher was expected to make a vital difference like he did with England in moulding a new Team India. A man widely acknowledged with having a sharp technical acumen, the Zimbabwean needed to guide the new generation forward on two counts.

First, Fletcher was to identify technical weak spot in the young batsmen and help them iron it out.

We have been told that the process has been progressing smoothly. Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma have emphasized on various occasions on Fletcher’s assistance in improving their batting. But this tour of England has showed a few chinks, particularly in the batting of Kohli and Pujara.

Both of them were expected to lead India’s batting but have failed miserably. James Anderson has given nightmares for Kohli under broad daylight, and Pujara has just not been able to convert his starts into something more substantial. There is a technical side to their failure and according to Dhoni, Fletcher has been working with them quite diligently. “When it comes to technical areas, Duncan has the most experience. He is working with Kohli, and not just with him but with Pujara and all others,” said Dhoni.

There is no reason to doubt Dhoni or other players on that front. But Fletcher’s ability in man management needs more clarity. These days a coach’s job extends beyond devising strategies, and at this level a comforting arm around shoulder is much more needed than technical inputs when going gets tough.

Sir Alex Ferguson, one of the most successful managers across sports, asserted that in a series of interviews titled: Managing Manchester United. “Players live a more sheltered lives these days, and they are much more fragile emotionally. We need to tell them about mistakes without losing control on bad days.”

The Indian team is going through ‘bad days’ and has Fletcher managed to put players at ease? Nobody has talked about it so far. This time Fletcher needs to give an answer.

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