When Duncan Fletcher took over the reigns of the India team, it was one of the most enviable jobs in the cricketing world. India had not only won the World Cup after 28 years, but were also the best Test team in the world. Moreover, India had a stable captain in MS Dhoni, who was a heady mix of youth and experience. Theoretically, life couldn’t have been better for Fletcher. But what he didn’t know was that the post, besides being the most coveted, was also the toughest of them all.
Gary Kirsten was successful for two reasons. From the onset, he was clear that his goal was to last till the 2011 World Cup and hence planned for only that long. He was confident about the nucleus of the team and knew his job was to fill in a few blanks here and there. Also, Kirsten’s worries were limited to finding the No. 6 batsman in Test cricket and getting the right batting order in the ODIs. Since matches can’t be won without bowlers, he identified people like Praveen Kumar, Munaf Patel and Ashish Nehra, who could do the job for him.
This was also the reason why he did not demand too much from the selectors, provided they didn’t fiddle with the core of the team, which they didn’t.
Over to Fletcher
Taking over a successful team can be a tricky task. The team had already peaked and needed to sustain its position. This can only happen when one is ready to acknowledge the changes required. Unless they are implemented, decline is imminent. Unfortunately, Fletcher decided to adopt Kirsten’s winning formula - he distanced himself from team selection in the first few months, something his predecessor did, and which he could ill-afford.
He allowed the selectors to try out a few youngsters for the Emerging Players tournament in Australia and India’s tour to the West Indies without realising that he was losing time and crucial opportunities to get people ready for the job in England and Australia.
Once he had made those choices, he was left with very little room to manoeuvre in England. Inspite of working in England for years, he dared to walk into a Test series with only two regular openers. To make matters tougher, both the openers had never played Test cricket in England. Virender Sehwag’s return to international cricket was fast tracked assuming he would play the saviour despite not playing competitive cricket post his surgery. The India coach made many such glaring errors and paid heavily for it. It seemed that he swung between being too ambitious and cautious.
Now, Fletcher finds himself in an even more precarious situation. He’d have to make more than a few drastic changes to take this team forward. The three pillars of Indian batting -- Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, are not going to be there forever and its Fletcher’s biggest challenge to ensure a seamless transition. He would need to identify at least two capable batsmen for every batting slot, which may require him to be a bit ruthless.
He would also be expected to identify and nurture a pool of fast bowlers, since India must get prepared for life after Zaheer Khan and it’s time we hold Eric Simons, the bowling coach, accountable for his wards.
It’s time our coaches go a step beyond the national team and look for talent in the domestic circuit.
The writer is a former India opener and plays domestic cricket for Rajasthan