It was Duncan Fletcher's renowned tactical acumen and man-management skills that landed him the India job in 2011. But it is the continued failure of these qualities to make an impact that threatens to sound the death knell of his coaching career.
Excuses were made, justifications were given, but results have been absent. The team surrendered one series after another with the Champions Trophy triumph being the sole standout.
Fletcher was recommended by his highly successful predecessor, Gary Kirsten. The former England coach was seen as the man most suited to guide young talent as India headed into transformation. But there has been little evidence of his influence as the team has lurched from one defeat to another away from home.
Fletcher barely interacts with the media. And players hardly credit the coach with any special input. On the other hand, they are happy to thank seniors, be it Sachin Tendulkar or Zaheer Khan. The team repeating the same mistakes and questionable selection of the playing eleven only added to the mystery about his role.
The best example of a coach inspiring players can be seen in the way Darren Lehmann has transformed Australia within a year. On Wednesday, as they pushed to get the last two South Africa wickets to clinch a series win, the former player was in the stands demonstrating how paceman Ryan Harris should get the ball to swing. Two wickets in one over and the job was done.
Fletcher's excuses have run thin after India's Asia Cup debacle. Virat Kohli initially had wanted a more hands-on Fletcher, but that has not been the case.
Keeping the team's spirits high is the job of the coach. Fletcher, apart from talking to batsmen at the nets, seem to contribute little. India had just two practice sessions and he could not push them to work more.
India had their chances against both Sri Lanka and Pakistan, but let go of the advantage. And after Ajinkya Rahane replaced Rohit Sharma as opener against Afghanistan, helping India post their highest opening stand in the tournament, Rahane stressed it was the ‘management decision'. It finally suggested Fletcher had his say with Kohli only filling in for skipper MS Dhoni. However, not giving Cheteshwar Pujara or Ishwar Pandey a chance, even in the inconsequential match, has only raised questions about the intentions.
In Stuart Binny's only game against Sri Lanka, the all-rounder batted at number eight and was given only four overs. Pacer Varun Aaron was not given a game, not even against Afghanistan, to put forth his case again after a forgettable outing against Bangladesh. Amit Mishra was the only reserve to get a couple of games and he justified his selection in them.
The World Cup is less than a year away but the team struggles to find the right combination. In New Zealand and South Africa, India did not win a game. And beating only Bangladesh and Afghanistan is meagre returns for the world champions here.
With Fletcher's contract up for renewal, the World T20 is his final shot at redemption.