ANALYSIS: The curious case of Duncan Fletcher
Replacing a coach like Gary Kirsten, who was a massive success with Team India, was never going to be easy for Duncan Fletcher. The former Zimbabwean international, says Bikash Mohapatra, doesn't have a report card that makes for great reading, yet still enjoys the backing of captain MS Dhoni.
Duncan Fletcher did quite a bit for English cricket.
Besides coaching them to a first Ashes triumph in 18 years (2005), the former Zimbabwean international can also be credited for introducing a central contracts system in England, one that give precedence to country over county.
No wonder it took the English team some time, and a lot of effort of course, to get back on track once Fletcher left.
Gary Kirsten did a lot for Indian cricket.
The South African's contribution had nothing to with administrative changes. He could not attempt that under the aegis of the BCCI. Could he?
In fact, Kirsten was smart enough to realise where his predecessor (Greg Chappell) had failed and focused on the performances on the field instead.
And deliver he did, taking Team India first to the No.1 ranking in Test cricket and then to a World Cup win on home soil, thereby ending a 28-year-old wait for a world title. However, he quit immediately after, again smart enough to realise a coach should bid adieu with the team on a high.
Image: Duncan Fletcher
Photographs: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Replacing Kirsten was never going to be easy
Replacing Kirsten was never going to be easy. However, following the South African's recommendation, coupled with Fletcher's previous record, the Board handed the veteran a two-year deal.
Almost a year-and-a-half has passed since. And how does the Zimbabwean score?
Suffice to say, his report card doesn't make for a great reading.
Wins against the West Indies (away and home, in that order), New Zealand (home), Sri Lanka (away) and England (home) have been outweighed by results that can be termed 'disastrous'.
If the back-to-back series whitewash in both England and Australia -- the team lost 4-0 in the Tests and also faced reverses in the following One-day series' -- and an early exit in the World T20 championship in Sri Lanka a couple of months back wasn't enough, the MS Dhoni-led side now lost successive Tests -- the first time it has happened in 12 years -- at home to England.
Photographs: Gareth Copley/Getty Images
'It's wrong to question the coach'
No points for guessing, but Fletcher is facing considerable flak for his handling of the team. It's apparent he failed to replicate with Team India the results he achieved with England, despite the fact that he had far better resources at his disposal.
His critics agree Kirsten's was a difficult act to follow, but believe the Zimbabwean could have done better to avoid successive humiliations.
The coach though has the backing of his captain.
'It's wrong to question the coach,' said Dhoni, shortly after the Eden reverse.
'We have won quite a few series and the performance in the one-dayers has been really good,' he continued, adding, 'Yes, we struggled in England and Australia, and this is a series we've not done well (and lost two matches).
'But we should not really look for excuses and play the blame game, putting it on the coach.
'Ultimately, it's the 11 players who turn up on the field. That's the time when you've to get up and retaliate to the opposition, that's where we're lacking as of now.'
India's captain reiterated that Fletcher is doing a good job as coach.
'He has been doing what the coaches do,' said Dhoni, adding, 'He has got excellent technical knowledge about batting.'
Photographs: Samuel Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images
'Fletcher keeps things very simple'
'He guides the players in the right direction.'
There are others in the Indian team who echo the captain's sentiments.
'He (Fletcher) has great knowledge of the game,' said R Ashwin, whose resilient unbeaten 91 in the second innings at Eden helped India avoid the ignominy of an innings defeat.
'He keeps things very simple. He doesn't interfere much about the technique but instead focuses on minor things which are equally important,' he added.
Fletcher may enjoy the support of the captain and the team at the moment, but what needs to be taken into account is the fact that all of them are in the same sinking ship now. They have no option but back each other.
Reality is that should the coach not deliver immediately, it won't be long before he finds himself in the firing line.
In fact, Fletcher should consider himself fortunate to have avoided the axe for so long.
Image: India's coach Duncan Fletcher (top) talks to Gautam Gambhir
Photographs: Vivek Prakash/Reuters