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HindustanTimes Sun,21 Sep 2014

Cricket

Upheavals over, Duncan Fletcher gradually getting it right
Sahan Bidappa, Hindustan Times
Bulawayo, July 31, 2013
First Published: 03:16 IST(31/7/2013)
Last Updated: 10:09 IST(31/7/2013)

Few have got to know Duncan Fletcher over the years. Hidden behind his famous shades, he says little in public and mostly stays expressionless regardless of the match situation. No wonder, he chose to name his autobiography, 'Behind the shades'.

Similarly, he has stayed true to his cricketing philosophy through the ups and downs in his coaching career, since he left the England dressing room in 2007. Fletcher took over as England coach during their worst phase in 1999 and famously led them to an Ashes series triumph in 2005, although he had to resign after the World Cup debacle in the West Indies.

His stint with the Indian team started badly. Under Fletcher, India were routed 8-0 on successive Test tours in England and Australia, not to forget an embarrassing home Test series loss to England.

Staying on
In any other era, those humiliating results would have meant the coach being sacked but the former Zimbabwe player hung on. Not very comfortable with the media even at his best, he came under tremendous pressure. However, the tide has turned. In fact, he has been given a one-year extension and his recent successes suggest he will be there till the 2015 World Cup.

The 64-year-old might have struggled to piece together India in the Test arena -- surprisingly a format he succeeded for England. But he has done wonders with the team in the One-day format. Since India hit the road, beginning with the Champions Trophy, they have won 11 out of 13 matches.

Sharp mind
India hired Fletcher on the recommendation of outgoing coach Gary Kirsten after the 2011 World Cup. The former South Africa opener felt Fletcher's cricket acumen would be vital to guide the India team in transition.

And he seems to be making an impact working with the younger players coming through, and the results are showing. Highly regarded as an astute tactician and for his knowledge of the game, his inputs seem to help the team turn the corner.

Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni has constantly hailed Fletcher's contribution, even when India were losing.

Dhoni felt Fletcher's limited credentials as player -- he appeared in just 11 ODI's for Zimbabwe -- has not come in the way of expanding his knowledge of the game and he has the ability to spot little things, helping the team.

During the current series, Fletcher's post-match sessions have been interesting. With Zimbabwe posing little challenge to India, Fetcher and fellow Zimbabwean, fielding coach Trevor Penny, have put together intense but fun-filled training session where his camaraderie with the players is evident. 

Agile Unit
Fletcher has emphasised on fitness and fielding, and the younger lot has improved immensely. Skipper Virat Kohli declaring Fletcher as the 'best cricketing brain in the world' reflects his gratitude. "Duncan has been a great help, not just for this series but overall since he's been coach," he said. "He had really difficult times initially and was criticised a lot, but he's stuck with the team and stayed strong, and we've seen the results now. We're really benefiting from his experience."

Fletcher has rarely spent time in his native country, and is now based in Cape Town. It's interesting that although Zimbabwe are down in the dumps, both Fletcher and compatriot Andy Flower - the England coach - are guiding the destiny of two major teams.

Fletcher's next big challenge will come at the end of the year, when India tour South Africa. But the winning habit he has instilled among the players should play a big role when India look to take that big stride forward.


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