Duncan Fletcher coached England to their first Ashes victory in 16 years when the English side defeated Australia 2-1 series in 2005 © Getty Images
India capitulated to yet-another humiliating loss abroad, losing the last three Tests comprehensively after being 1-0 up in the series. While skipper MS Dhoni has managed to save his neck by retaining the captain’s role, coach Duncan Fletcher seems to have taken the maximum impact of the criticism that has come India’s way. This, however, is not the first time Fletcher has gone through such hardships. Amit Banerjee takes a look at Fletcher’s highs and lows as the coach of the England team.
When Gary Kirsten left his job as the coach of the Indian team after the success of the 2011 World Cup victory, he left a huge void which was always going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to fill. Several former players and coaches applied for the job, and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) selected Duncan Fletcher ahead of the likes of Stephen Fleming and Andy Flower.
Zimbabwe-born Fletcher, who was Kirsten’s personal recommendation for the job, has since then had mixed results with the men in blue. While India have won 11 of the 18 One-Day International tournaments they have played since Fletcher assumed the role in April 2011, India’s performance in overseas Tests sank to a terrible low, losing 13 of the 17 Tests they have playing during their tours of England [2011, 2014], Australia [2011-12], South Africa [2013-14] and New Zealand [2013-14].
The 1-3 hammering that MS Dhoni’s lads received at the hands of England in the recently concluded five-match Test series could be the final nail in the coffin for Fletcher as the head coach of India. Calls for his head have been sounded by everyone from former players to fans. For Fletcher, who captained Zimbabwe to a famous victory against Australia in the 1983 World Cup in the group stage, this sticky situation is another rough patch that he will have to deal with after similar past situations that threatened to blot his illustrious career.
Fletcher’s experience as coach of the English team, was one that can also be described as sweet-sour. His appointment in 1999, succeeding David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd in the role, was the first instance of England having a foreign-born coach as well as their first non-Test playing coach. The burden of bringing England back to its former glory was placed on his shoulders after England registered disappointing performances throughout the late ’90s.
The years preceding the 2003 World Cup were marked by a dramatic rise in Test fortunes as England managed to win Test series’ against teams such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka in unfamiliar conditions. Fletcher’s first major success was England’s 3-1 series win over West Indies in 2000 to win the Wisden Trophy for the first time in 31 years. The victory was hailed by the British media as the “revival of English cricket.” Much like their recent 3-1 victory over India, England lost the first Test by an innings and 93 runs, only to win three and draw one of the remaining Tests. With this victory, England started believing in their ability to win and gave their fans a sense of hope for the days to come.
While England’s overseas performances continued to improve courtesy series wins in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the team was still under criticism for meekly surrendering two editions of the Ashes by getting thrashed 1-4 by Australia in 2001 and 2002-03. England also had a disappointing outing at the 2003 World Cup, in which they were knocked out in the first round itself.
The period between 2003 and 2005 was considered as a golden period for both England and Fletcher. England won 22 of the 35 Tests they played between the 2003 World Cup and the 2005 Ashes, winning eight out of ten Test series during this period. They also won eight consecutive matches, a record at the time.
The brightest spot in Duncan Fletcher’s career however came during the 2005 Ashes. England hadn’t won the coveted urn in over 16 years and Australia, with the likes of Glenn Mcgrath, Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden among others were unstoppable in those days. Though Australia were the strong favourites to retain the urn, England were seen as a team that were capable of turning the tide, given their recent victories against major teams.
What occurred over the next couple of months made has gone down in the history books as some of the greatest moments in cricket. England’s fight-back after losing the first Test by a big margin symbolized the fighting spirit that Fletcher had infused into the team, which was missing from the side from a long time. The rest of the matches were fought to the last minute, with England winning two of them by margins of 2 runs and 3 wickets respectively. With such narrow victories, the series was hailed by some as ‘the most thrilling series ever.’ The members of the English team were elevated to heroes and Fletcher got his much-sought British citizenship.
The period between 2005 and 2007 was marked by a decline in England’s fortunes. England suffered one of their worst years ever in their ODI history as they lost bilateral series’ to India and Sri Lanka by margins of 1-5 and 0-5 respectively, aside from a 2-3 series loss to Pakistan. Arresting the slide of unrelenting defeats suffered by the side over the years was something Fletcher couldn’t extend his talismanic touch to. Other than a 3-0 Test series win against over Pakistan in the controversial home series in July-August 2006, England did not bring smiles to anyone’s faces.
The 2006-07 Ashes was seen as an opportunity for Fletcher to redeem the honour and respect that he had somewhat lost in the past year. Australia were still the formidable side that they had been for over a decade, and were looking to give the likes of Glenn Mcgrath, Shane Warne and Justin Langer a perfect farewell. At the end of the five-match series, the baggy greens managed to accomplish more than just that as they wrested the urn from England with a crushing 5-0 whitewash. If the 2005 edition was hailed as the greatest series ever, this had to be one of the most anti-climactic and one-sided series ever.
A fairytale 2-0 victory in the best-of-three finals of the Commonwealth Bank Tri-series managed to delay the hammer from hitting the final nail in the coffin of his English coaching career. The upset win gave some hopes to the administrators and fans of a good performance in the 2007 World Cup. That wasn’t to happen as England lost five of the ten matches and failed to progress to the semi-finals. This failure was the final straw in Fletcher’s coaching days and he tendered his resignation in April 2007.
Like his England days, he has had his share of highs and lows with the Indian team as well. Fletcher inspired the Indians to a memorable 5-0 whitewash of England when the latter toured the subcontinent. His biggest moments by far were India’s second Champions Trophy victory in 2013 and their 4-0 series win against Australia in India. That, however, is nothing in the eyes of the average cricket fan and selector compared to India’s horrible overseas tours as well as home defeats against England and Pakistan.
With Fletcher’s influence over the Indian team being diluted courtesy Ravi Shastri’s selection as the team director for the upcoming ODIs and T20I, one feels that Fletcher’s days with India are over. However, given the Rhodesian’s record, one can never know for sure what is to come in the future days. Who knows, Fletcher may rise from the Ashes and perform another miracle, given that the World Cup is not very far away. No matter what the critics say, Duncan Fletcher is one man who definitely cannot be written off at any stage of his life.
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(Amit Banerjee, a reporter at CricketCountry, takes keen interest in photography, traveling, technology, automobiles, food and, of course, cricket. He can be followed on Twitter via his handle @akb287)