Saturday, May 21, 2011

Can Gary Kirsten's Guru - Duncan Fletcher - Deliver?

By Carl Jaison.

Duncan Fletcher is now the luckiest but the most envied man on earth. The Zimbabwean took everyone by surprise after BCCI appointed the 62-year old master-brain as Team India’s new coach. Offers are pouring in for the former England coach, with the salary he would fetch standing at a whopping Rs. 78 lakhs, other benefits being free-air travel and other mouth-watering perks. Fletcher may find the going a lot easier than his predecessor, Gary Kirsten, who came in at a time when India faced a cricketing crisis after Chappell’s horrendous term as the Indian coach. Moreover, Fletcher is destined to coach the world champions of cricket, something that an ordinary human can’t even dream of. But is the stout and burly foreigner up to the task in hand?

Fletcher is a proven deliverer in this field. Under his watchful eyes, England went on to clinch the Ashes after 18 long years of trophy winning drought. He boasts of successful wins to Sri-Lanka, Pakistan and South Africa. Along with the then England captain, Nasser Hussein, the Zimbabwean ensured that England skyrocketed upwards in the ICC rankings from a woeful 8th position to the 3rd best team. In lieu of  winning the Ashes after 18 years, Fletcher was conferred with the OBE. On 13 September 2005, Fletcher was awarded British citizenship after a five year wait. He is regarded as England’s best coach.

But then, he has also made revelations like, "I'd like to be a rugby consultant. I have some ideas...I love my rugby; I would rather watch rugby than cricket. I'm passionate about it; it's the game I'd like to have been involved in."

India should decide whether he is the right man for the job? That was the same problem with Greg Chappell. He was a man of many words and puts everything before the media in a blunt and open manner. This was a major problem with the Australian that soon led to his ouster. Perhaps a coach having the characteristics of a Gary Kirsten or a John Wright is more suitable for a sub-continental team where cricket is nothing less than a national issue. Gary’s overall presentation of himself is too good to describe. His wry smile tells it all. While Wright is more of the serious figure among well-known cricket coaches, Fletcher doesn’t have a sombre image to brag off. Usually such gentlemen doesn’t gel along with our culture and style of  playing. They would be better off coaching upcoming cricketing nations or even rugby teams.

But Fletcher can’t afford to sit and admire his portfolio as the job in hand is no child’s play. Coaching an Indian cricket team that is as dynamic and proud, and whiich carries a nation’s whole weight, is something foreigners will have to be wary of and they must be well-accustomed in carrying out similar duties. Like all other foreign coaches, Fletcher too has come under heavy criticism from former Indian cricketers like Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar, who opines that an Indian is best suited for the coaching position. Gavaskar reckons that Mohinder Amarnath is the man for the job while Kapil is in favor of either Prasad or Robin Singh to coach team India. But why do majority of cricketing boards stick to choosing foreigners over former national players of their respective countries in coaching their team? Expertise, international exposure, latest coaching techniques are ready answers but aren’t our former cricket stars capable of  undertaking such high-quality coaching assignments? The simple reason why foreigners are preferred is because they bring with them the glamour quotient. Fletcher has the resources, he has the men around him to assist, he’s well funded and he has the experience of coaching top teams and yet his credentials are questioned.

When Gary’s name was recommended by Sunil Gavaskar, many thought Indian cricket went into the wrong hands but didn’t Gary ‘Potter’ prove the many wrong and that too in a fitting fashion. Let us hope Fletcher’s reign takes India to greater heights and he is able to outclass Gary’s contributions to Indian cricket. Ironically, it was Gary Kirsten who recommended the Rhodesian’s name to the BCCI before he took his flight home. The composition of the other coaching staff hasn’t been altered much but it stands to be seen whether India agrees to Fletcher’s capabilities as a full-time coach.

With due respect to the two, Fletcher is more so like a Chappell than a Kirsten. So, Indians can’t expect relief right from the word ‘go’, as Fletcher is the sort of man who needs time to get along with the core nature of the team. The other success of Gary ‘Potter’ lies in the fact that age was on his side which is not the case for the 62 year old Duncan, as the former could understand the young players’ feelings and emotions and act accordingly. Gary has played against the likes of Tendulkar, and Dravid which made it easier for him to respect the senior pros and even consult them in a few situations.

Fletcher resembles an egoistic character having the mix of both Wright, in terms of  cricketing awareness and Gary in terms of  nurturing young talent. The rise of Kohli and Raina can be credited to Kirsten who kept playing these bright talents even when they hit a lean patch and the results are there to be seen: Indian cricket is in safe hands now with these youngsters coming to the fray.

Though the India team resumes International Cricket with a tour of the West Indies in June 2011, Fletcher is unlikely to assume charge till India tours England in late July.  Fletcher had bagged the top job in the India national cricket team ahead of names like former New Zealand skipper Stephen Fleming and former Zimbabwe skipper Andy Flower.

All eyes are on Fletcher to coach India to cricketing supremacy as toppling Australia in the one-dayers will be his long-term target. If he fails there, Duncan needn’t wait another year after his contract as the best way to please cricket-crazy Indians is to win, win and keep winning. India, under John Wright proved to be world-beaters and under Kirsten managed to be world-champs and under Fletcher the country will be hoping India can forever end Australia’s preponderance because then Fletcher can hope to end his illustrious career on a high. With England, he managed to upset the Aussie outfit and that’s just what India expects from him. Coaching a team that is numero uno in Test cricket and that has just been crowned World Champions sounds easy to many a ear but those very facts makes his job even more difficult as a slight slip here and there may lead him to be shown the doors. This is the gigantic pressure with which Duncan Fletcher enters as coach and will it be too hot to handle for the old man? As far as our knowledge about Duncan Fletcher goes, it’s preferable that we follow Kapil’s perceptions about the Rhodesian until he takes over; “Who is Duncan Fletcher?” or even better, Dun’can?

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