Man on a mission

Nishad Vellur

Taking positives from past experience, BCCI has yet again decided to hand over the coaching reigns of the Indian cricket team to a foreigner. Challenges are aplenty for the 62-year-old Zimbabwean-born Duncan Fletcher in his toughest assignment, which includes player management (mainly high-profile players), relationship with the Indian media, et al.

Right approach

It seems Duncan Fletcher got his first step right. He announced in his first news conference after taking over the job that his philosophy will be: offering advice to the players, but dictatorial in approach. This, according to him, will suit the Indian players.

This was the similar kind of approach Gary Kirsten had followed, which paid rich dividends, the World Cup 2011 triumph being the most famous one. No wonder Fletcher, who coached the English team for eight years, was recommended to the Indian board by his predecessor.

Going by the words of former captains -- England’s Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan -- India has found an amazing coach in Duncan Fletcher. The common held belief is that he also has the similar cutting-edge technique of Gary Kirsten.

An established player himself during his heydays, Fletcher was Zimbabwe`s first-ever One Day International captain, leading them to their famous victory at the 1983 Cricket World Cup over Australia and winning the Man of the Match award for his individual performance. He also took Zimbabwe to victory in the 1982 ICC Trophy.

Having just played six matches in his ODI career with no experience of Test cricket, he has proven his mettle in his role as a coach. Fletcher is largely responsible for rejuvenating fortunes of the then flagging English team. He propelled the team from the bottom rungs of Test cricket to become the second best under his tenure as coach.

Foreign flavor

The fourth foreigner to be given charge of the Indian team after John Wright, Greg Chappell and Gary Kirsten, Fletcher is preceded by an illustrious list.

John Wright, who coached the side from 2000 to 2005, opted for a low-profile approach, remaining mostly in the background. Under him, the Ganguly-led Indian team reached the 2003 World Cup finals.

However, when it came to deciding on the next coach, not all were in favour of BCCI’s decision to assign a foreign hand for the post after Gary Kirsten’s departure. Former players like Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev have always spoken in favour of an Indian coach. Gavaskar even backed Mohinder Amarnath to coach the Men in Blue. According to him, the former captain would gel with the team "because most players represent the Hindi belt."

However, in a broader scenario, language stands no barrier in this age of cricket, where players from different parts of the world make up a team and play as a unit, courtesy the IPL. In the words of former Pakistan captain Wasim Akram, "a foreign coach is quite beneficial for the sub-continent teams simply because he is a neutral guy."

Tough task ahead

Fletcher is aware that coaching the No.1-ranked Test team and ODI world champions will be no easy task. The first of all the challenges being - maintaining the top position.

Sooner than later, the Indian team will enter a phase of transition and Fletcher’s job is to make sure the process is done smoothly. A major blow will be the departure of Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar, who is 38 now.

It has to be seen how well he can deal with the youngsters and mould them to become world beaters. Fortunately for Fletcher, there is no dearth of young talents in the Indian side. According to him, the series in the West Indies will show the depth of cricket talent in the country. "We would like to beat England in England and Australia in Australia. But the first job is the tour of the West Indies. It`s very important not to look too far down the road. India have a plan to stay at the top. The young players have the potential and this tour will show the depth of talent we have," he said.

The young brigade for the Windies series includes Manoj Tiwary, Abhinav Mukund, Shikhar Dhawan, S Badrinath and Rohit Sharma on the batting front, with Ravichandran Ashwin, R Vinay Kumar on the bowling front.

Interestingly, for Fletcher, he will start from where it all ended. Four years ago, he resigned as the head coach of England after the team suffered a horrible run in the 2007 World Cup in West Indies. Some of England’s failures under Fletcher include: ICC Champions Trophy finals to the West Indies in 2004; the 2003 World Cup loss to Australia at Port Elizabeth and the Natwest series final in 2002, where India successfully chased 325 runs. Most recently, in the role of a consultant to the South African side, he couldn’t do much in the 2011 World Cup, where the team failed to reach semi-finals.

However, the Zimbabwean’s record as a coach in Tests for England has been outstanding. England won 42 of the 96 matches during Fletcher’s reign, including the Ashes triumph of 2005.

With already a rich trail in his coaching history, Duncan Fletcher would be hoping to leave the prints of a successful mentor to the Indian team. However, coaching this strong side, fresh and confident from the World Cup win would be no mean feat, something which he can’t afford to start on the wrong foot.

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