Is he the right man?
Although the senior batsmen have borne the brunt for the debacle in Australia, coach Duncan Fletcher is also under scrutiny, Sanjjeev Karan Samyal writes.india Updated: Jan 29, 2012 01:47 IST
How the mighty have fallen! They were expected to dazzle England and crush Australia; Sachin Tendulkar's 100th hundred was to light up the contest between the then world's top two teams; Zaheer Khan's banana swing was to bamboozle all batsmen. After tasting glory in Old Blighty, India had to just land in Australia and Mahendra Singh Dhoni would become the first India captain to win Down Under.
These were the dreams when Duncan Fletcher took over a team basking in the World Cup glory last year. Appointed after that exhilarating triumph in April, the seasoned Zimbabwe-born coach was expected to steer Indian cricket to the next level. After all, he had taken charge of a team on a high, being the No 1 Test side as well as the ODI champions.
But those hopes have turned into an almost unending nightmare. After a low-key win in the West Indies to start with, the overseas Test score line now stands 8-0 against Fletcher. His overall coaching record in Australia reads like an Australian Open drubbing, 1-4, 0-5, 0-4. The first two series defeats came when in charge of England, the third needs no mention. As India coach, it is the second straight 0-4 whitewash abroad.
The senior players have come under unprecedented attack following their repeated failures and the manner of defeats. And Indian cricket is waking up to the reality of how difficult the transition period is going to be.
It can be argued that it is ultimately the players who go out and perform, and the coach has a limited role to play there. However, it is clear that in aspects where he has a direct role to play, Fletcher has not covered himself in glory.
India's planning was poor and the team was found tactically wanting. More importantly, the tough calls were not made, in all aspects where the coach comes in.
Given the task to oversee the team's transition, the most disappointing aspect of Fletcher's performance has been that the youngsters have been given a raw deal. It speaks poorly of the leadership role in the team that Rohit Sharma didn't get a game in the entire series while an out of sorts VVS Laxman played all four Tests.
If the coach is not going to take the tough calls, who will? The seniors kept on performing poorly but the young Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane's claims were ignored. It turned out to be a case of no one willing to bell the cat. In terms of team goals, persisting with Laxman at Adelaide defied logic.
Fletcher will always be compared with his predecessors, who had their big moments. John Wright, who took charge in September 2000, is credited with taking the inspired decision to send Laxman at No. 3 in the Eden Test against Australia in 2001, triggering the sensational comeback win. And the first Test series victory in Pakistan three years later will always be cherished.
His successor Greg Chappell's tenure, between 2005 and 2007, was mired in many controversies but some proactive decisions were taken, with chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar playing an important role. The axing of Irfan Pathan, the dropping and recall of Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly and the arrival of Suresh Raina in the ODI set-up all happened during the period.
Gary Kirsten was wiser for the turbulence during the Aussie's tenure and guided a team where the senior players needed no extra motivation to deliver the goods consistently.
Fletcher's challenge is comparatively greater as he is dealing with the big names, who are struggling. But, the advantage of a foreign coach is that he comes in with no baggage. If Fletcher is not going to talk to the Tendulkars, Dravids and Laxmans, who will? The selectors, and the cricket board, should take plenty of blame for not articulating the direction they wish to give the team and its personnel, but the man in the dressing room appeared a mute spectator.
"Everyone has to take responsibility. The coach's role is to strategise, motivate the players and keep their morale up, and take tough calls. We didn't see any of this in England and Australia from Fletcher. He's been a total failure," former India coach Madan Lal told HT.
"Why didn't they give Rohit a chance? He was the best young batsman. The coach has to talk to the senior player and, may be, explain to him the reason why they want to try a new player.
Sometimes you have to talk politely, sometimes use hard words. They should have played Rohit; that is the only way to make a player. Steve Waugh was given more than an year to settle down," he said. "Now, the seniors will go together and it will leave a big hole. It might take four years for the Indian team to come out of it."
While the ageing stars could not pull their weight in the team, Laxman carried his technical problems from England. More than age slowing down his reflexes, he crouches so low in his stance. Playing on bouncy Australian tracks, he was first trying to stand tall to get on top of the bounce and then move his feet into position. As a result the head was not still and forced him into errors.
The scrutiny of Fletcher began immediately in England, where his knowledge of the home players and local conditions were seen as the X-factor for India. But whatever planning happened, it was left on the drawing broad in the dressing room. Even if players don't execute strategy, the head coach will have to take responsibility. In Australia, the batting unit in particular misfired throughout but a huge opportunity to take bold steps were lost. "There was no strategy," lamented Madan Lal. "We continued to play in the same manner. They could have tried a change in the batting order, something might have worked. Ishant took five wickets in four Tests. What was the coach doing?"
Fletcher is renowned for his technical knowledge. Although he has worked hard with his wards, the success rate with young batsmen is one out of five.
Suresh Raina, Murali Vijay, Abhinav Mukund and Yuvraj Singh have failed and lost their Test spots. Virat Kohli is the only one who has made the cut.
Former skipper and coach Bishan Singh Bedi said the board should be blamed for poor planning to face the Aussies, who are renowned for their aggressive brand of domestic cricket which they bring internationals at home.
"The team makes the coach, and not the other way around. If international stars don't know how to adjust, there is something seriously wrong. As far as commitment was concerned, we were miles behind the Aussies."
Former opener and coach Anshuman Gaekwad echoed Bedi's views. "On the face of it, the coach has his work cut out, but Duncan is dealing with senior players. And I don't think he can take bold decisions, if that means ringing in changes in the playing eleven. Besides, the selectors have a big say in team selection," Gaekwad said.
However, with the stock of Indian cricket plunging rapidly with the defeats in England and Australia, it remains to be seen whether Fletcher and his support staff are given a long rope.