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HindustanTimes Sat,12 Jul 2014

Cricket

Fletcher gets a lifeline despite just two consolation wins to show
Sanjjeev K Samyal, Hindustan Times
Mumbai, March 15, 2013
First Published: 19:37 IST(15/3/2013)
Last Updated: 02:36 IST(16/3/2013)

What's common between Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Zaheer Khan and VVS Laxman! All of them suffered form slump post-2011 and finally lost their place in the India team. Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh also went through a lean trot, though they managed to hang on in the Test squad.

It's a period, which will be termed as the Duncan Fletcher era in Indian cricket history.

The phase also includes the Test team being blanked 4-0 in two straight overseas series, the loss of the Test series at home to England, early exits in one-day tournaments --- tri-series in Australia and Asia Cup in Bangladesh --- and missing out on a semifinal berth at the World Twenty20 Cup.

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This is the kind of record, which calls for serious accountability from those who are in-charge of the team. A mid-term sacking would be routine. Surprisingly, the Indian cricket board has rewarded Fletcher with a year's extension. Actually, it ensures Fletcher a run till the 2015 World Cup, as it is highly unlikely that the BCCI will make a change for the short period after that.

These were big dreams when Fletcher took over. Appointed after the World Cup victory in April 2011, the Zimbabwean was expected to take Indian cricket to the next level. After all, he had taken charge of a team on a high, being the No 1 Test side and World Cup champions.

Token consolations
The two Test wins at home in the ongoing series against Australia are just a token consolation in his two-year term.

Dissecting the three biggest debacles --- the Test series defeats to England (home and away) and Australia, and even accepting that it was a collective failure --- it has become clear that in areas where the coach has a direct role to play, Fletcher has not covered himself in glory.

The coach's role is to strategise, motivate the players and keep their morale up. We didn't see any of this in England and Australia as Dhoni & Co continued to flounder.

Compare this to Australia, who are going through a similar phase now. The defeat in the first two Tests has evoked a sharp reaction from coach Mickey Arthur, who has axed four players.

Renowned for his tactical acumen, Fletcher's knowledge of the England players and conditions was expected to be India's X-factor against them. But, whatever planning happened remained inside the dressing room.

Poor success rate
The success rate with young batsmen is one out of five. Suresh Raina, Abhinav Mukund, Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh have lost their place in the Test team, while Ajinkya Rahane and Manoj Tiwari have remained on the fringes. Virat Kohli is the only one to make the cut.

While most foreign coaches, from John Wright to Gary Kirsten, left their mark, Fletcher's tenure was in danger of concluding without anything to write home about. Against all odds, he's got a second chance. It remains to be seen, if he can manage a final hurrah in his coaching career.


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