It is just as well that India are making a mark as a sharp fielding unit despite repeated failings in the two key areas – batting and bowling. On Thursday, as the squad members began their first training session in the new Jharkhand State Cricket Association stadium, coach Duncan Fletcher held centrestage during an elaborate fielding drill.
He supervised sprints that involved covering short distances to pick and throw with markers placed at various points. The players then went into a more strenuous relay race from one end of the field to another. The spring in the step was apparent after winning the second ODI to square the series with the next game to be played in skipper MS Dhoni's home ground on Saturday.
The former Zimbabwe all-rounder arrived in India having built a reputation as a game changer with England, which led to their sensational Ashes victory at home in 2005 and began the transformation of the team. While that process has been astutely carried forward by his younger Zimbabwe compatriot, Andy Flower, the same has not happened with Fletcher after he succeeded the hugely popular Gary Kirsten, who took India to the World Cup win but didn’t stay on to oversee the team’s transformation.
Rahul Dravid was the first to seek him out during the West Indies tour, engaging in a long conversation on batting. And he was outstanding in the subsequent England tour. Since then, it has been downhill for a man who has kept away from the media despite the demand for his sacking.
Critics feel he has failed to reach out to players and point out that players have not been able to stop making the same mistakes again and again. Sachin Tendulkar has kept getting bowled, Sehwag has struggled, Raina has not been able to overcome his weakness against the short ball, Gambhir has lost confidence and is uncertain outside off-stump. Even Virat Kohli has not been able to overcome his recent problems.
Although the cricket board has not indicated much, Fletcher’s time with India appears numbered even if India produce a good showing in the current series as well as the home Test series against Australia starting late in February. The question no longer seems to be whether he will be able to redeem himself.
Former coach and selector Anshuman Gaekwad feels Fletcher has failed to communicate with the India players by overcoming the challenge of the language and cultural barriers. “Whether it is the bowler or batsman, the same mistake is being made again and again. He should have sorted them out by now.”
But he said it may be unfair to blindly criticise Fletcher. “It is all very nice to say Fletcher is useless. But we also don’t know fully what is happening inside, whether he is being allowed to do what he should be doing,” he told HT.
“In the end, it is important that players have confidence in the coach. His main contribution has only been in planning. Now, it is up to the BCCI to think of Indian cricket’s future and see whether he will be helpful.”