Over the last decade or so, most of India’s tours to the Emerald Isles have virtually been meaningless affairs. However, when MS Dhoni leads his team to Sri Lanka to play five ODIs and a Twenty20 International starting next week, it will not be an insignificant affair.
Not merely because it will mark India’s return to international cricket after a break of almost four months, but importantly, it will give an indication of whether India are on their way for a turnaround after their lacklustre run over the last year.
More than players, the three weeks in Sri Lanka will be crucial in deciding the fate of coach Duncan Fletcher. After all, since he took over the reins of the team after the 2011 World Cup win, he has hardly come close to replicating the success of Gary Kirsten.
Thus it came as no surprise that while the likes of Suresh Raina and Irfan Pathan chilled out by the pool of a Chennai five-star hotel on Sunday afternoon ahead of the conditioning camp, Fletcher stayed back in his room, perhaps chalking the road map for his wards and himself.
Surviving the slide
Normally, no coach would have survived in his job after the kind of humiliating defeats the team suffered in England and Australia in the last year. Moreover, the former Zimbabwe international’s poor man-management skills came to the fore during the senior players’ public spat in the middle of the Australia tour.
“It is strange to see how he has survived despite so many failures,” former India coach, Madan Lal, told HT. “After such failures, not just an Indian but any other international coach would have lost his job. Any coach will win you a series at home, but his true test lies when the team travels overseas.”
Perhaps his preference to stay aloof and his popularity with younger players and senior cricket board officials has ensured Fletcher’s two-year contract has not been summarily terminated.
However, not just former players but even administrators are on the verge of losing patience with him. “It is high time his expertise reflected in the results,” a BCCI insider said. “Otherwise it would be really difficult to persist with him.”
While there is no doubt that Fletcher’s first series with the national team — in West Indies last year — was successful, since then it has been a forgetful ride. Barring 50-over affairs, India has lost more under Fletcher than they have won (see box). And even in ODIs, the success rate is more than 50 per cent only due to the 10 ODIs India played at home last year.
And as for the Tests and T20s, less said the better. As a result, the India’s current ranking (see box) shows how poorly they have fared since the World Cup. Naturally, as the Men in Blue leave the Indian shores on Wednesday from the same city where Fletcher was unveiled as India coach in May last year, he would perhaps be more desperate for the team's success than the players themselves.