The ‘Duncan Fletcher’ coin: what side are we looking at?
In 2011, we witnessed the country’s greatest cricketing moment – the pinnacle in Tests and in ODIs. It was beautifully symbolised by a satisfied Gary Kirsten, who in the dressing room, held his arms aloft, arched backwards and smiled to himself in quiet satisfaction.
In cricket, as in life, you can find positives and negatives, based on what your motive is, what you want to find. Duncan Fletcher is a wonderful example for all of us. He is an unusually quiet person, whose mystique silence adorned by dark sunglasses, attracts a lot of media attention, sometimes as much as his coaching record for India. It isn’t as impressive as Kirsten’s and that is his curse, to precede the very best in the business. Yet, it isn’t bad at all.
In fact, India is the only team that figures in the top 3 of the ICC team rankings, in all three formats. It’s on top of the table in the ODIs and a respectable 3rd in T20s and Tests, the latter on the back of the mauling they gave Australia. He has 10 wins and 10 losses in 24 matches.
I want to examine two examples that the anti-Fletcher cordon is coming up with reasonable scarcity of imagination, research or analysis. We didn’t qualify for the T20 semifinals this time around. But in the previous two versions of T20 World Cups, we failed to win even a single game in the second round. It was our bad loss to Australia that really cost us the semi-final spot.
We didn’t qualify for the Asia Cup finals either. I, as an Indian cricket fan, am still reeling from the loss to Bangladesh that tainted the wonderful occasion of Sachin’s 100th international 100. It was that match that cost us the tournament. India absolutely murdered Pakistan in a stunner of a game and won against Sri Lanka too. In both cases, it was one bad match. Champions never have bad matches, but at the same time, when you build a case for a coach, you have to do it in the proper context, not on the basis of a couple of bad matches.
Fletcher’s biggest failure was to do anything different while India was getting hammered match after match, first in England and then in Australia. The same players who performed well under Kirsten couldn’t deliver the goods in these humiliating Tests. To believe that the performance of 30-year-olds dipped because they couldn’t get any input from their coach is well, a touch ludicrous. After all, the Zimbabwean has all the experience and is more than willing to share information and in fact, is paid to do so.
Who is to blame? We took our no.1 Test ranking before Fletcher a bit too seriously. We may have won a few matches away, but we hung on to longer than expected to top spot because of our domestic form, more than anything else. A coach and a captain are just as good as the team. If we criticize Fletcher for coaching India to its first series loss at home in half a decade, we must praise him for the first 4-0 win against any team of any stature, leave alone Australia.
However, that I believe is the wrong way of looking at things. Had Dhawan not played the blinder at Mohali, India wouldn’t have won the third Test. Fletcher should be credited for dropping Sehwag and gambling with Dhawan. That move along with the move to play Jadeja at 7, paid off. The same moves could have looked ugly had they not paid off. So, do we really believe it’s a coach who takes the burden for a team’s losses and defeats?
India still has a winning percentage greater than 50 in the shorter formats of the game. If anything, Fletcher should be credited for the way the young team is oozing confidence. He is laying the foundations, slowly but surely to a team that can once again turn world-beaters. The contributions from the tail and the young brigade are high points that are worth attention. Building a relationship under the pressure cooker conditions of Indian cricket takes time, especially with the schedules.
Finding a coach and persevering with him is a matter of patience. I don’t like the fact that Fletcher isn’t proactive enough or that he has a pace to his approach that is reasonably slower than the pace at which Indian fans react. But, I am also a big believer of having resources ready before we look for replacement. In the international scene, do we see someone who fits in the Kirsten-Fletcher ‘working behind the scenes’ mode? I can only think of Stephen Fleming and we are unsure if he has ever shown interest in coaching the national team. Experts like Gavaskar feel an Indian coach with a record similar to Fletcher would have been done away with by now. I feel he is right about that.
However, two wrongs don’t make a right either. The only disappointment that I have is that the BCCI didn’t try to interview a few more coaches, asking them for proposals to turn the team’s fortunes. 2 years ahead of the 2015 World Cup, a mere extension of Fletcher’s contract without much ado seemed slightly irresponsible. Only time will tell, if the right decision was made. But to anyone logical enough, a winning team isn’t just about a good coach. The invincible Australian team didn’t need a coach with Warne, McGrath, Steve Waugh, Gilchrist and Ponting.
If we really want to debate, it should be about our Ranji rules and our domestic pitches. That more than the coach offers the worrying signs. These are reasonably good times for the cricket and the IPL will find crowds. However, behind the din and glitz, I hope we are not trying to make one man the scapegoat and instead try to absorb the bigger picture of the Indian cricket machine.