By Karthik Parimal
Since taking over the reins from World Cup-winning coach Gary Kirsten last year, Duncan Fletcher hasn’t had much to rejoice. India has played 14 Tests, 31 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and six Twenty20 Internationals (T20I) since the World Cup and has won just three, 17 and two games respectively in each of those formats. Those aren’t exactly performances you’d expect from a world-beating side. Also, most of those wins have come either against relatively weaker oppositions or at home. Although it would be naive to write Fletcher off just yet, the next few series for him, and the Indian cricket team, could be crucial.
A lot of people have copped criticism after India’s downward spiral post the 2011 World Cup. Whether Fletcher should feature in that list is a point that can be debated. Quite a few unexpected injuries to key players surfaced during India’s horrendous tour of England. Last-minute changes and adjustments became the norm. But that does not take away the fact that India played poor cricket and were capable of putting up a much decent show. One felt that Fletcher’s experience would have come in handy during that tour, but that didn’t happen. A few senior players were blamed, and later it was just termed as one of India’s worst phases. The matter wasn’t deemed serious, until India botched up its subsequent tour to Australia in a similar manner.
India played with a full-strength squad during that tour and yet failed to avoid a whitewash at the hands of an upcoming Australian side. Australia certainly had the right mix of youth and experience, but the side was nowhere close to being unbeatable. In fact, the Indians were touted to be the favourites to win that series before it commenced. On paper, the bowling department was strengthened by the return of Zaheer Khan and the batting too appeared relatively tougher. Nonetheless, the results didn’t favour India. They were duly knocked out before the finals of the Commonwealth Bank ODI Tri-series involving India, Australia and Sri Lanka.
One could comprehend India’s poor performance in Tests since it is undergoing transition, but why it couldn’t maintain its stronghold in the limited-overs format of the game is astonishing. After the CB series loss, India came up with another insipid performance at the Asia Cup where they were knocked out by Bangladesh in conditions similar to home. Surprising is the fact that the selectors and the think-tank refused to press the “Urgency” button even after consecutive debacles. The senior players bore the brunt of the outcry that followed India’s pathetic performance in Tests overseas. The void in the side has widened further with the exit of Rahul Dravid. As mentioned in my previous article, India’s bowling department has been tweaked very often to maintain balance and to strengthen it; as a result, over eleven fast bowlers have been used in the past one year.
A variety of changes have been made on a superficial level to get India back on track. However, the root of the problem, like many from the cricket fraternity have already pointed out, lies elsewhere. India’s domestic structure needed a revamp, and a committee rightly led by Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble took baby steps towards making the domestic tournaments more competitive. The changes will be visible in due course of time. However, it should be kept in mind that the immediate future must also be taken into consideration. And that is where Fletcher’s expertise will come in handy.
The Indians are scheduled to visit Sri Lanka before playing a series against New Zealand at home. The T20 World Cup isn’t far away either. A lot of eyes could be on Fletcher during these series. Indians play better in subcontinent conditions, and that could work in Fletcher’s favour. However, he mustn’t forget that there were similar expectations placed on his shoulders during the Asia Cup, but the results were far from positive. Whatever changes that were needed to be made on a superficial level and within the team have been made. If the team still fails to perform despite all these changes, there is a possibility that fingers will be pointed out at Fletcher’s methods and approach soon.
The fact that one of India’s most successful coaches, Kirsten, has himself recommended Fletcher for the job speaks volumes of what the latter is capable of doing. Everybody knows what a brilliant job he has done with the English side a few years ago. But he’s yet to deliver in Indian colours. His worth will be proved when India wins on a consistent basis overseas and not just at home. Having said that, none of the current international teams have been doing a good job while playing away from home. Fletcher could manage to stay away from the limelight if India fares fairly well in the upcoming series at home, but he’ll have a lot of answering to do if things continue to go haywire.
(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. His zeal for writing and love for the sport of cricket is what has brought him here. Karthik can also be followed on Twitter)