There is a scene from the popular television series FRIENDS where Chandler lies on the beach at Montauk, with Monica beside him. Eager to prove to himself that he is boyfriend material, Chandler asks, “All right, there’s a nuclear holocaust, I’m the last man on Earth. Would you go out with me?”
Monica thinks hard, weighs the only alternative carefully before responding in a half-hearted assent, “Enhhh.”
Somehow, Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) statement, which justifies the extension of coach Duncan Fletcher’s contract by one year, sounds strikingly similar.
The effect is hardly convincing. Well, he had to be kept, you know, because there is no option or an alternative right now. You wouldn’t want a new guy to be thrust forward in that hostile environment of South Africa, would you?
There can be plenty of schools of thought about whether the extension of Duncan Fletcher’s contract by one year is justified or not, some arguments can be made for the decision and many against.
On one side we have eight overseas losses on the trot, followed by the rare defeat in series at home for the first time since 2004 — a period of untold despair for Indian cricket.
On the other hand we have had an aging middle-order, retiring maestros, out-of-form openers, struggling medium-pacers and collective loss of form — all of which may shift the focus from the coach to extenuating circumstances.
Besides, the side has started winning against Australia. True, the latest triumphs have come on the Indian wickets, tailor-made for home-grown tweakers and forbidding for faster men. Additionally the Australian side is not really going through the smoothest of runs themselves, with four players sidelined for not completing the homework given by the team coach.
The Indian batsmen may have mastered Nathan Lyons and Xavier Doherty, but had struggled in vain to counter the combined threat of Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann.
Yet, perhaps it is too much of an ask for a new coach to come in and embark on a voyage to the torrid shores of South Africa, where foreign teams have traditionally struggled, where Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel wait eagerly, polishing the bright cherry in their able hands.
Sunil Gavaskar has wondered whether an Indian coach would have survived 10 Test defeats. Given the way Indian cricket is structured, there cannot be a generic answer to the question. It would depend on the appointed individual, the image of the same person in the media, the BCCI, and, not least, the brands pervading the advertising world. One thing is perhaps certain. If it had been an Indian coach who spoke as little and was as self-effacing as Fletcher, he would have been roasted alive by the raging fire of criticism and would have probably been a perfect, made-to-order scapegoat.
However, the topic of foreign coaches and the opinion of Sunil Gavaskar seldom combine into the most objective.
The decision is perhaps the best among the available choices. And the explanation given by BCCI seems sound of logic: “We don't want to take a knee-jerk reaction considering the next big Test series is in South Africa. It will be risky and unfair on a new coach to give him charge in South Africa and expect good results from him.”
It’s not a vote of confidence
What rankles is the announcement itself. Underneath the logical explanation, it does seem that it is a far cry from a vote of confidence for Fletcher.
It has been made almost absolutely clear that Fletcher has to be continued with not because he is considered the right candidate, but has saved his job since this not the most opportune moment to sack him.
It also seems to suggest clearly enough that Fletcher has done a bad job and needs to be replaced, but has managed to survive because it will be unfair to a new coach if one is appointed at the current moment.
He has made it as the least evil of a series of negative alternatives.
There is no problem if such has been the logic behind the decision. In some ways, it is commendable thinking.
But having decided on Fletcher, the Board should have backed him to the hilt, at least in front of the public and press.
Instead, the statement by the BCCI member sounds curiously like a vote of no confidence. It seems very unlikely that it will work wonders for the confidence of either Fletcher or the Indian team.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
First Published: March 16, 2013, 10:36 am