As one listened to Duncan Fletcher's first official media interaction as India coach, in Chennai on May 13, one wondered if he would be able to maintain the high standards set by his predecessor Gary Kirsten.
His coaching philosophy was crystal clear. But what was striking during those 20-odd minutes was his willingness to be bullied by the then BCCI secretary, N Srinivasan, now its president. On more than one occasion, Srinivasan interjected when a question was put to Fletcher.That was when one began wondering whether Fletcher would be able to manage the BCCI officials, the talented youngsters, and most importantly, the egos of the who's who of Indian cricket, if India were to continue their dream run, which included becoming the No 1 Test nation and the world champions in the 50-over format.
Cut to Saturday and as one saw most of the Indian cricketers heading to the Brisbane airport, it was evident the new coach has miserably failed to goad the national team forward. So much water has flown under the bridge over the last nine months that the tag of world conqueror seems so alien to the current team.
Poor start to his stint
Though they won the Test and ODI series in the West Indies in June-July last year on Fletcher's maiden assignment, the victories were far from convincing for a team that was at the top of the rankings ladder. Then came the England tour.
Not only did India get whitewashed in the Test series and lose their No 1 ranking to the hosts, they also failed to win any of the five ODIs.
If Fletcher had hoped the England ODIs at home followed by the full series against West Indies would rejuvenate the team, it was too much to ask for as the pathetic run in Australia proved.
At the start, it was considered India's best chance to win a Test series in Australia. Instead, it turned out to be a 4-0 mauling, like in England. Though India managed to win one of the two Twenty20 Internationals and three of the eight CB Series league games, they failed to make it to the final of the tri-series, thus ending their tour without any real high.
What was puzzling was Fletcher's reluctance to address the media. During the 12 weeks the coach spent in Australia, he attended one press conference, on January 3 in Sydney.
And one is wondering whether the coach was busy with backroom man-management, Fletcher's failure to replace the out-of-sorts VVS Laxman at least in the last Test and his inability to end the war of words between Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the senior members — Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir — exposed his limitations.
Reputation at stake
With three difficult overseas challenges to start with, Fletcher no doubt had risked his reputation by accepting the job in May.
When asked how difficult it would be to sustain India's No 1 Test ranking, Fletcher had said that May afternoon, "Yes, it will be difficult and that's one of the things you consider before taking up the job. Hopefully I can add value somewhere down the line. First West Indies, then we are going to England where there will be lots of swing and seam. Then Australia where there will be bounce. Hopefully, the knowledge I pass on will be effective."
The last nine months have shown how effective he has been.