By Venkatesan Iyengar
When Zimbabwean-born Duncan Fletcher was appointed as the coach of Team India on April 27, 2011, on a two-year contract, he had a reputation to live up to. In his eight-year stint as the coach of England team, Fletcher had helped the team scale quite a few peaks. From 1999 to 2007, under Fletcher’s able guidance, the English team achieved series wins away from home in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the West Indies, and South Africa. The English team also recorded, during this period, eight consecutive wins — three of them coming against New Zealand, four against the West Indies, and one against South Africa. Fletcher’s crowning glory as the coach, however, was the 2005 Ashes win when England beat Australia 2-1 in the five-match Test series to lift the Ashes after an 18-year wait — an achievement that brought Fletcher an Order of the British Empire (OBE) and a speedy review and approval of his application for British citizenship by the British Home Secretary.
Besides Fletcher’s impressive work as the coach of England team, what may have helped him clinch the Team India contract was the outgoing coach Gary Kirsten’s word in Fletcher’s favour. When Kirsten ended his four-year stint as the coach of Team India, he was leaving behind a team that was in a better shape than it had been when he inherited it. Though India won, during Kirsten’s tenure, a home series against Australia, away series against Sri Lanka and New Zealand (which came after 40 years), and above all the 2011 World Cup, besides achieving No 1 ranking in Tests and No 2 in ODIs, Kirsten’s contribution as coach should not be measured just in terms of percentage of wins and losses. Kirsten was credited with moulding the team into a fighting unit and establishing camaraderie in the team, besides helping the Indian cricketers improve their technique and overall performance. A happy MS Dhoni would go on record then to tell that Kirsten was “the best thing to happen to Indian cricket.”
To cut a long story short, when Fletcher assumed charge as the coach of Team India, all that he had to do was to live up to his reputation as the successful coach of England and build on the good work that his predecessor Kirsten had done with Team India — an ideal setting for an ideal coach. But that was not to be.
Now, more than a year and a half into his tenure as coach of India, Fletcher does not have much to show in terms of achievements. Under his stewardship, India has till now played 20 Tests, won six, lost 10, and drawn four. Of the 37 ODIs and 17 T20s that the team played during the corresponding period, it won 21 and nine respectively. However, more than the results, it is the dismal state of affairs in the team during Fletcher’s tenure that has brought him much opprobrium. Fletcher is seen as too old (64 years) to inspire confidence and as lacking the confidence and goodwill enjoyed by Kirsten and John Wright before him.
To be fair to Fletcher, coaching Team India is not a cinch. The sheer load of the expectations and the diverse pressure would weigh down even the best in the business. Given the average Indian cricket fans’ predisposition to expect instant results and penchant for idolising players, and the Indian cricket board’s avariciousness and tendency to play to the gallery, a coach has to perform a trapeze act while taking enough care not to step on the over-sized toes. That the batting mainstays of India, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, retired during Fletcher’s tenure leaving a void in the batting lineup has not helped Fletcher’s case either.
However, the BCCI is not going to take such a pragmatic view of things when Fletcher’s contract comes up for renewal in about three months from now. In all likelihood, Fletcher will be made the scapegoat and shown the door, and when that happens, not many will shed tears for a coach who lay low in a high-profile job.
Fletcher’s potential successor
That brings us to the question as to who should be appointed as the next coach of Team India. Already names are being bandied about, the prominent one being that of a former India captain — Sourav Ganguly.
Ganguly was easily one of the most successful and respected cricket captains of India. He was made captain when Indian cricket had hit the rock bottom mired in match-fixing scandals, and he justified the faith that the board and the selectors had reposed in him. Ganguly’s reputation as a go-getter, his in-your-face aggression, and his ability to recognise and nurture talent and get the best out of his players easily make him best suited for the role of Team India coach.
While the man in question Ganguly himself was evasive in his reply to the question whether he wants to be made the coach (“I wouldn’t say that I would not want to coach the Indian team, but currently, I haven’t given it much thought. Also, I don’t believe in thinking too far ahead. Taking things as it comes is how I like to live my life. You never know what lies in store in the future, so why think so much?”), the fact remains that Ganguly is someone who relishes challenges and would not be averse to the idea of taking on the mantle.
However, even if Ganguly throws his hat in the ring, it is anybody’s guess whether the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) mandarins would be enthusiastic about the idea. While Ganguly as coach can certainly help Team India rediscover its form with his no-nonsense approach, what may go against him is his past reputation for speaking his mind. If anything, Ganguly’s penchant for confrontations, his eagerness to wear his aggression on his sleeves, and his competitiveness that borders on brinkmanship might not make him BCCI’s natural choice for the position of team coach.
(Venkatesan Iyengar was a speedster who could swing the ball both ways. He captained his school team at the zonal and district levels. His boyhood dream was to open the bowling for Team India in the august company of his idol Kapil Dev. Even today the sight of Kapil makes him nostalgic)