Duncan Fletcher’s first big challenge since he took over as India coach is turning out to be a nightmare. If India lose at Edgbaston, it will be his eighth consecutive defeat in high-profile Tests, the three reverses against England coming after he had finished his England stint in 2007 with a 0-5 rout in the Ashes.
Not everyone was pleased with the Zimbabwean’s appointment as India coach. It was like bringing the 62-year-old out of semi-retirement. It is early days but the pressure is on him here as he was the one who was supposed to be making a difference against England; simply because it was his old team and he knew their game inside out. In fact, he was supposed to be India’s X-factor in their bid to turn the tables on the hosts.
Even if one gave him the benefit of doubt saying his planning may be good but the team paid the price for poor execution, there is a distinct lack of direction and desire in the side, and that as coach makes him equally responsible for the debacle.
Suresh Raina started so positively in the first game. He was the lone batsman on the final day to show some spunk at Lod’s when the England bowlers turned on the pressure. Since then he has looked the most confused, in the next three innings he has played. At Trent Bridge, the coaching staff was with him, putting hours and hours of work in the nets. Strangely it did not have the desired effect. Instead, his footwork has gone for a toss.
Sachin Tendulkar has been in imperious form in the last four seasons. His fifth tour to England is proving to be the least successful. VVS Laxman has got out to the same shot (hook) again and again in the series. When the England bowlers have bowled, the ball has swung all day. When it is India’s turn, only Praveen Kumar has managed to do that with consistency. And we are yet to see an England batsmen dismissed due to smart field placement.
This is the former Zimbabwe player's second stint as international coach. He would have quickly understood that his role with Dhoni's team will be very different. When he took over England, they were struggling. But with India, it was already the No 1 Test team. And from there, it could only head in one direction — down. It has become obvious that Fletcher has taken over a team in decline. The challenge of his tenure could well be to manage decline.
For that the key will be to admit the harsh reality. Hiding behind excuses, like he did after being outplayed on the opening day of the third Test, will serve no purpose.
The coach began his defence on Wednesday with injuries: “It’s important that we take note of the number of injuries that we have suffered on the tour.”
His second one: “Even when I was with England, I haven’t seen the ball swing around so much for three Tests in a row.”
As for lack of preparation: “How can you practice against swing bowling in India when there is no swing bowling? It is a matter of trying to adapt as quickly as you can.”