Duncan Fletcher: A Hallmark of Denial
The problem with Indian cricket is that it lives in the present. While philosophers will tell you that is a good way of life, it doesn't really hold water in this complex web that is held tight by the BCCI and its players posing as demigods.
By the end of this month, the Indian team will have beaten Australia at home, by a margin of 2-0 at least if not better. It will be a moment for the powers that be to come out in exultation because the 'current' status of affairs will reflect victory. Not just any mind you, a second consecutive one after the ODI series win over England, again at home. It will tick all the boxes at the start of 2013, never mind the loss to archrivals Pakistan. Then the IPL season will take over. It will reign on the minds of those who let themselves be swayed by its razzmatazz and those who don't, will just shut themselves away.
It will be a keen reflection of how 2012 transpired. Right around this time, last year, team India was at an unprecedented low. They had been thrashed 8-0 away from home and finished third best in the Asia Cup, hosted in the sub-continent, where they had won the ODI World Cup just eleven months prior. At that juncture there seemed to be no way up and as 2012 IPL beckoned, the powers that be decided they will inquire into the losses. Stern action would be taken. That report is still awaited.
In the last one year, the psyche of everyone invested in Indian cricket, player or administrator, big or small, has put a big dent in its health. Records have mattered, but only past ones, and a whole many have been given a long leash. Selectors have tided over glorious triumphs and ignored the future, leaving their successors deeply short-shifted. There was one man in this melee who could have exerted some semblance of control, his contractual obligations allowed him that freedom. Instead, he read it the other way, absolving himself completely.
Duncan Fletcher was brought in to usher a smooth transition. He was not given any selection powers, yet was given the opportunity to work with young players and impress upon them. He was allowed to set them stiffer targets, ones painted on the back of senior players, pushing performance out of them. Neither of the two happened.
Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara came up through their own might. Rohit Sharma, who needed immense mentoring to keep him on track, faded away waiting for his chance in Australia. Likewise, Manoj Tiwary and Ajinkya Rahane await that one chance, while the likes of Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina reigned as favourites for selection. When that ploy didn't work, the entire team philosophy was changed with an extra bowler playing in home Tests.
Yes, the big argument herein is that none of this was primarily in Fletcher's hands. He couldn't have selected the team. He couldn't have mentored youngsters by spending only a little time with them. He couldn't decide on team composition and surely couldn't have devoted time to domestic cricket, with international demands. All that can be swept under the carpet or at least tried to.
Even so, this is where the truth becomes glaring. He was the one man in the midst of chaos, without any weight of consequences bearing him down. He wasn't going to be fired, come what may, simply because the time for that was right after 8-0. Whilst everyone was being pulled away in different directions, mired in their own personal interests, he could have decided on a general course of action. Fletcher needed to put his foot down and pull the team together, in a manner that spoke of his pertinent individuality. It needed to happen against England in that lost Test series.
The most obvious example was that of Kohli being unable to come to terms with the plans laid out for him by the English team. Until his seventh innings, he did not know the value of putting a price on his wicket. Why wasn't he told? By his childhood coach's own admission, the duo discussed Kohli's batting problems, ones which they deemed Fletcher would be unable to solve.
Fletcher has been retained, as the board president explained, 'keeping in mind continuity of a process of transition'. But for someone who doesn't exert himself enough, this process could get tedious and out of hand. Giving him a year's extension, on the basis of victory against a hapless Aussie side, is a neither here nor there kind of decision. If performances on the away tours to South Africa and New Zealand do not match up, will they fire him in 2014, just one year before the ODI World Cup? Where will the process be headed then?
Moreover, what chance of a fresh start is there when the 8-0 thrashing invokes fear whenever the upcoming four successive away tours (visits to South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia in two seasons) are mentioned in silent breath? This contract extension cuts Indian cricket away from the defeats it has suffered in the last two seasons, yes, distancing from the past and hoping to rebuild.
Yet the future looks bleak, for the foundation is rubble and the present is shaky. The coach, therefore, becomes a sad representation of where his team stands today, a hallmark of its denial.