Duncan Fletcher as a topic of discussion evokes very little response among people who know and discuss cricket.
I have been trying to discuss his role with many people — stakeholders in Indian cricket, cricket journalists, players and former players, fans and the like. Responses have ranged from ‘who Duncan’ to ‘does he matter’ to ‘what can a coach do’ to just an indifferent shrug.
To be honest, a coach in a national cricket team is only a bit player. In a well-settled system, there is very little he can do to change the way things are run. The best thing a coach can do at the highest level is become a vehicle of communication between the cricket team, the system and the cricket cosmos. A cricket coach is not quite like the coach of a soccer or a hockey team, where he is taking decisions all the time, even during an ongoing match. In cricket, he is much like a bystander, while the captain makes all the decisions on the field. In a junior team, he has a greater role, given the youngsters’ lack of experience.
So where does that leave Duncan Fletcher? He was widely acclaimed as the coach of the English team which wrested the Ashes back from Australia, only to lose 5-0 to them away from home. Gary Kirsten was given a lot of credit for India’s World Cup win in 2011 but didn’t get as much acclaim as Dhoni.
A cricket captain commands much greater visibility and power compared to any other game. Who knows a captain of a soccer team? He is hardly required to make a decision on the field. He cannot even decide on substitutions. A cricket captain, on the other hand, is the lord and master of all he surveys.
How do we judge a cricket coach then? At this level, he cannot just be a manager of net sessions. Rather, he has to a be a motivator, a judge of men, a communicator with the team and the outside world, a communicator with the system, and a person who coaxes the best performance out of the team, though not necessarily in that order.
Now, let’s assess Fletcher’s performance. India’s Test win percentage under him is 31.25 in Tests, 58.33 in ODIs and 53.85 in T20Is. The five Test wins are all against the West Indies and New Zealand. Under Kirsten, the percentages were 48.48, 62.64 and 50.00 respectively, albeit against more formidable opponents and included a World Cup title. On performance, therefore, Fletcher has gone below par and can, at best, be given four out of 10 marks.
Second, his role as a motivator looks extremely suspect. The way Laxman made a hastened exit and given that Fletcher has not been able to do anything with Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni suggests that the coach does not inspire much confidence. He seems to be acting as a second to Dhoni rather than having his own views.
Youngsters such as Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara have come through the system. Raina seems to be fading out as a Test player and appears good only for the shorter formats. Virender Sehwag and Dhoni are going their separate ways, with the coach unable to bring about a rapprochement. His role as a motivator cannot get him more than three marks out of 10.
On the third count, as a judge of men and as a contributor to the selection process, his role has remained almost as a ‘yes man’ to Dhoni. He has not shown any inclination to farm for fresh talent, or even promote any budding youngster. His love for pace is well known, but he has not been able to get either Ishant Sharma or Umesh Yadav to become a performer. He has not been able to summon courage to tell Zaheer to get fit or reduce his workload. India’s pace department is below par. The spinners perform only in home conditions, and the pacers in no conditions. Duncan is at a loss to contribute to the selection process, nor can he judge the merit of men like Rahul Dravid. Dravid hung his boots after just one poor series, whereas Sachin is going on and on in spite of several poor series. Duncan is overawed by reputations and is not exercising a fair and merit-based judgment of men. He gets just one mark out of 10 in this.
Fourth, as a communicator with both the team and the outside world, his record is abysmal. He is taciturn to a fault. He could not even facilitate communication between Laxman and Dhoni and the former had to quit in a huff. Even Kirsten was not communicating too much, but there were at least some interactions, and he would not be averse to briefing the media in pre-match conferences. His intra-team communication is reported to have been excellent. Duncan is hardly seen. While talking to journalists, their assessment of him has ranged from -10 to -1, but since I have not proposed any negative marking for this round of assessment, I will give him a zero on this count.
Fifth, as a communicator with the system, he has done rather well. He shares a very good equation with the BCCI and the system, chiefly because he just toes the line. He is not known to be a person who expresses himself in the interests of the team. So he can get six out of 10 on this count.
So the total is 14 out of 50, i.e. 28 per cent, which is not passing marks. There is no extraordinary achievement in this period to redeem his position and earn him grace marks. On the other hand, there is this early exit from the T20 World Cup and two 4-0 defeats away from home in Tests. Fletcher coached England for eight years and a half, and is widely credited with turning things around in that country. I have my doubts on that too. I think much of English improvement has to do with systemic changes and import of brilliant players. His win percentages in Tests, ODIs and T20Is with England are 43.75 (in Tests), 45.18 (in ODIs) and 20.00 (T20i), which are hardly earth shaking. As a non-Test player, his achievement has been remarkable in the sense he got to coach England and India. Whether the BCCI has been equally wise in having him can be debated. On the parameters I have discussed, he is an abject failure.
—The writer is a principal secretary in the Rajasthan Government and a former president of Rajasthan Cricket Association. Follow him on Twitter: @Sanjay_Dixit. The views expressed are personal