It is no secret that the India tenure for Duncan Fletcher – the man credited with moulding a regimented England into some force – has been a misadventure. He may have the technical nous to guide young batsmen, but he has had little to show as manager of a side most scrutinised in world cricket, reducing himself to a glorified trainer.
Sunil Gavaskar has openly called for Fletcher’s removal, giving him 1.5/10 for his performance. It is a suggestion the BCCI should urgently consider. Even if that would leave his successor under pressure to revive the side in the build-up to two major overseas tours of England and Australia before the 2015 World Cup.
However, the real problem seems to lie elsewhere. Since Fletcher’s arrival, just after India’s 2011 World Cup win, skipper MS Dhoni has gone from strength to strength. How much voice Fletcher, who hates media interactions, actually has is unclear. And Dhoni, with Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag no longer in the dressing room, seems to be taking on a lot more than he should ideally be allowed to.
Unlike when his predecessors John Wright, Greg Chappell and Gary Kirsten were in charge, not a single player credits any achievement to inputs from Fletcher. They are, however, happy to thank the mentoring of Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan.
While at 65, Fletcher is hardly the sprightly type who can jog with the boys, can he be blamed for the dropped catches, lack of application and overtly defensive field settings by the captain? Dhoni, one of the most important captains in Indian history, is fighting a credibility battle. And it is clear who the boss is as far as the team set up is concerned.
In the tour of New Zealand, Dhoni kept out leg-spinner Amit Mishra although R Ashwin repeatedly failed to impress. His justification? Ashwin was played because in the southern hemisphere, team needs a No 8 who can bat! Would he have been this brazen if the BCCI had not stopped national selectors from touring? And would the selectors have not demanded an explanation but for the fact that Dhoni derives power even in defeat because he is also the skipper of board president N Srinivasan’s IPL team CSK?
Dhoni’s take on Ishwar Pandey was more interesting. He is not a finished product Dhoni said when asked why Pandey wasn’t tried. This means the captain is not impressed with what the national selectors saw in Ranji’s most successful bowler of 2012-13. This after he had castigated the Indian pacers in New Zealand for lacking ‘brains’.
That Fletcher would live and die in the shadows of Dhoni became clear in his first tour. After Dhoni inexplicably refused to chase a fourth innings target against an average West Indies on the last day of the final Test in Dominica, it was Fletcher who was pushed to take media questions. Up 1-0 in the series, wouldn’t another win send a message before the team lands in England? Isn’t aggression important? All he would say was it was unacceptable the decision can even be questioned.
India have not won an away Test since. In wane in 2011-12 and then in transition, the team had its chances. But lack of purpose, discipline and defensive captaincy has hurt them. Sacking the coach makes sense. But equally important is to check unbridled power in the hands of one man.