Jamie Alter: From Test series whitewashes to now struggling to keep his players united, India\'s coach is losing the plot.
It is a coincidence that Duncan Fletcher resembles Grady Little, the baseball coach who will go down in history as the man who didn't pull a struggling Pedro Martinez during Game Seven of the 2003 American League Championship Series?
Little was unceremoniously dumped from his position as Boston Red Sox coach following the team's exit from the doorstep of the World Series, and to this day remains a man castigated by a legion of die-hard Boston fans. Considering the manner in which he has silently overseen a dreadful run of eight consecutive overseas Test defeats, the 63-year-old Fletcher could go down as India's most infamous coach – even more than Public Enemy No 1, Greg Chappell.
Fletcher, most popular as the coach who teamed up with Nasser Hussain to take England from the bottom of the ICC's Test rankings and transform them into a team of winners, has done nothing for this Indian team. He was appointed as coach of India in April 2011, following Gary Kirsten's decision to return home to South Africa. Since then, here are the numbers: 14 Tests, three wins, eight defeats, three draws. The wins came against lowly West Indies (one away and two at home), as did the three draws (two away and one at home). The defeats have all come overseas, in seven straight matches – four by an innings.
In the same time, Fletcher has overseen 28 one-day internationals: India have won 15 (three in the West Indies, nine at home), lost ten (three to West Indies) tied two and played one washed-out match. They have also played five Twenty20s under Fletcher, losing three and winning two.
Those are the numbers. The one which has caused the entire furore is the Test statistics: eight straight overseas defeats. From being the No. 1 Test team, India have slipped to No. 2 and are well poised to surrender that as well. Their batting – the main reason for their ascent to the top of the Test table – has fallen apart, the bowling has elicited as much threat as a grasshopper to a lawnmower, their captain has lost his aura and as a whole, India's Test team has become a laughing stock. All this begs the question: what is Fletcher doing?
Of course, the coach is not out on the field holding the bat or ball. But his inputs and actions count, and his way of thinking percolates into performances. The best example was Kirsten, whose hands-on role and attention to detail helped get the best out of India's players – in particular, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman – and made the team believe it could grab the moments that needed to won. Under Fletcher the team has gone downhill rapidly.
Clearly India were a side in transition after Kirsten's exit, but Fletcher has little nothing to show that he can guide this team. He has been unable to improve the batting; it has only degenerated. He was appointed with the tours to England and Australia in mind, and was supposed to pass on his tactical nous of batting, especially to the younger players. Instead, India’s batting failed on both tours.
Unlike with England, where he fostered a spirit of belief in the dressing room, Fletcher has looked on as players have bickered in public, questioned each other’s tactics and even stuck up their middle fingers to the public. He has been unable to inspire positive thinking, or give the team a sense of belief.
In 1999, Fletcher was appointed the task of taking the worst team in Test cricket forward. What he did, along with Hussain and later Michael Vaughan, is a part of England's cricketing folklore. In 2011, Fletcher took over as coach of the No. 1 Test team. Fans of Indian cricket can only hope he doesn't take the team to the opposite end of the spectrum. He has coached India to two damning Test series defeats, which hark back to a dark period when India were habitual losers away from home. If England's 5-0 Ashes whitewash in 2006-07 was Duncan Fletcher's nadir, what are 4-0 whitewashes in England and 4-0 in Australia? And what of India's poor run in the CB Series? And the apparent rift in the team?
In the aftermath of the Boston Red Sox's dramatic exit from the 2003 ALCS, a blog titled Surviving Grady surfaced, created by two disgruntled Boston fans. It gathered a cult following and was even turned into a book of the same time. Going by the way Fletcher has coached India, and if the team continues to play so poorly, the Zimbabwean may find himself the subject of something similar. Clearly, the move to hire Fletcher hasn't gone to plan.