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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Uncle Duncan Fletcher (Part -2)


As I said in Part 1 of the article that I would also have a look at Uncle Duncan Fletcher. The Indian cricket team under him have bombed on away tours and recently even at home, the so called revenge series turned bitter as India were defeated by England 2-1.

Uncle Duncan did some good work as the coach of England's cricket team from 99/00 - 06/07. When he took over as the coach of the team, England was languishing at the bottom of test rankings. Under his guidance, England built a team around youngsters like Trezza, Vaughan, Freddie, SIJO, Harmison and co. Yes, the in your face passionate captain Hussain and other experienced campaigners like Stewart, Gough and Atherton helped England in their journey to become a successful test side. It has to be said though, by bringing in newer players, Fletch gave the team a fresh look to it.

Now, who can forget Fletch telling Craig White that he is one of the best all-rounders going around. It seemed to have motivated White, as even an average cricketer like White performed well on away tours of SL and Pakistan. Mathew Maynard told that it was the first time, he felt like players weren't just playing for their places, but they were happy when others performed well too.

Fletch was rated highly for his tactical nous too. Before the '03 WC match against Pakistan, Nass and co. were said to be scratching their heads, as to how to get the run machine from Pakistan Mohammad Yousuf out. Within no time Fletch is said to have seen a video of Yosuf's style of batting and is believed to have said; yorker that shapes away slightly from him. Mind you, it takes high level of skill to bowl that delivery, but the young man with those weird  hairstyles called Anderson executed the plan perfectly in that match.

In 04/05, the Saffers picked a young player with a long beard called Amla to play against England. The tactician Fletch is believed to have said; follow him and rough him up with short stuff. Harmison did just that and soon Amla found himself in the wilderness. After many years, Arthur and his Ozzy boys tried to disintegrate Amla by bombing him with short stuff. Unfortunately, the plan fizzled out, as in 2012, Amla seems to be using a magic wand that produces runs.

In-fact, Fletch was so passionate about his job as a coach of England that during the series against Springboks in 04/05 itself, he asked for videos of Pakistan's opening duo Farhat and Hameed. England were due to play Pakistan at the end of 2005 and Fletch was very eager to analyse the batting techniques of Farhat and Hameed. It shows the commitment he had towards the job as the coach. What more, many of those strategies that England successfully executed against Haydos, Martyn and co. in the Ashes 05 were meticulously planned by Fletch himself.

No wonder, under his guidance, England from the also rans went onto become a successful test side. England won the Ashes for the first time in 05, beat Saffers, Pakistan and Sri Lanka away from home as well. I am not suggesting for even one minute that he was the sole architect  of England's success during that time, but he played the role of supporting the captain very well.

Fletch had his flaws too. During the Ashes 06/07 debacle, he was very stubborn as in-spite of Giles being troubled by injuries and lack of form, he continued to pick him ahead of Monty. Fletch had a fascination for pace and as a result, in came I bowl short and wide and you hit me Saj Mahmood. Fletch and Cooley tried to remodel Anderson's action and that was a disaster.

Owais and Prior were said to be thrown out of the squad, as they refused to incorporate the "forward press" into their techniques. For all his flaws, he would still be remembered as a successful coach of England's cricket team.

After the Ashes debacle in 06/07, Fletcher resigned as the coach of England. With time, he seemed to have easily slipped into his new role of mentoring younger coaches like Kirsten and Arthur. From nowhere, thanks to the recommendation of his predecessor as the coach of India, Kirsten; he landed the job of coaching the Indian side.

As the coach of the Indian team, he seems to have lost his touch. You wonder though, whether it is because he is asked to work with a team with his hands tied at the back? A coach plays more of a supporting role, but he at least should have a say in various matters related to cricket.

What interested me more was an article in times of India, where some players speaking on the condition of anonymity said, he is of little use to the team. It was said that he only told basic things, confused a young player so much that it resulted in him going through a lean patch and didn't help Dravid and SRT to iron out flaws.

I can certainly take on the last bit, where it is said that he didn't help Dravid and SRT to iron out flaws. Having scored well over 10,000 test runs; neither SRT nor Dravid would completely lose it. Even at the fag end of his illustrious career, you can see SRT playing the odd straight drive, or the cover drive, but with age, everyone will slow down. In short, one can't expect Fletch to fight with the nature's rule.

In England in 2011 though, one could see a few inputs from Fletch which might have helped Dravid. In that series, Dravid played slightly inside the line, which to an extent helped him against bowlers, who mainly shape it away from a RHB; Anderson and Broad. In the series in OZ though, Siddle, Hilfy and co. mainly looked to shape it into Dravid and as a result, his stumps were uprooted on numerous occasions. The first and foremost sign that indicates a batsman is coming to the end of his career is; when he starts getting bowled, or lbw frequently. In a way, you can say the Ozzies planned and executed their plans better than England against Dravid.

The other point was about Fletch telling only basic things. Well, cricket isn't some rocket science. For instance, in the test series against England, the only problem that Kohli had was; nibbling at deliveries outside the off-stump. To overcome that problem all it takes is; showing a bit more discipline by leaving deliveries outside the off-stump.  If indeed Fletch has confused some youngster, then there are problems aplenty. Good coaches look to keep it simple.

Kohli himself praised Fletcher and Kirsten before the series against India. Ironically, this interview was published by the same newspaper in which it was said that Duncan was of little help.

Kohli on Kirsten and Fletch,

"Both are very different persons. Gary was more of a guy who would have regular conversations with every cricketer. He kept talking to us all the time and he could make the players talk too. On the other hand, Duncan is someone who will come to you if he thinks you're making a mistake. Duncan has great knowledge and he can talk about the game at a totally different level. Some of the things he told me have helped a lot and I'd say, the improvement has shown. I have great relationship with both of them."
Well, how can a coach, who supposedly has immense knowledge about the game become poor overnight? Of course, there have been occasions in the past one year, when a cricket fan like me sitting in front of the TV set has wondered why India aren't doing this, or doing that? It is easier to analyse, when you are watching a game of cricket though a TV,  but India's think-tank have been reactive with their plans.

At Nagpur, India's pacer Sharma seemed to have woken up from his deep slumber, as he tested Compton with a few short deliveries and even took his wicket. Compton invariably thrusts his front-foot well forward. A clear indicator for the opposition to try out a few short deliveries. You could see the difference it made, as in the second innings, Compton was a bit apprehensive of using that big stride forward against Sharma. For India's think-tank, it took seven innings to try out that plan. In his defence though, Fletch and company didn't always have bowlers to carry out that plan..

If someone takes up the name of Captain Cook, even in his sleep Dhoni may get scared and fall down from his bed. He has been a thorn in India's flesh in the last few months. It also has to be said that India were yet again reactive, when they were up against Captain Cook.

People will tell you the Saffers this year tried to bombard Cook with Morkel going around the wicket. The truth is; in England you can always get a little bit of movement. As a result, the Saffers also looked to bowl from over the wicket and tempt Cook to play at a few deliveries just outside the off-stump and they succeeded too.

In India it is different, as you don't get to see quicks getting much help from the surface. In that case, what could have India done differently against Cook? If you look at Cook's trigger movements, one can notice that even when he looks to come well forward, his back-foot still will be more, or less inside the crease. His front-foot will be in the air for a moment or two and tends to move towards the off-side. Now that is where a seamer can zoom in and look to target his front pad; by getting a little bit of shape into him. Bowling from around the wicket is always an option too against any left-hander.

Only in the final test did Sharma look to bring it back into Cook. He did get him out lbw at Nagpur, though it was crystal clear that Cook wasn't out on that occasion. Sharma rarely tried to go around the wicket to Cook as well. 

Even some of the field placements, especially when Cook wasn't intent on scoring a run in the second innings at Nagpur were strange. The experts, or former Indian players have also accused the present lot of taking it too easy.
 
Even Down Under, when Indian seamers struggled to dislodge Punter, they seemed to have no plans for him. To be frank, I didn't watch much of that series,  but certainly followed the first test at MCG. My recollection of that test was of Indian seamers being erratic in the 1st session, but the rain break helped. Once the game resumed, the seamers tended to bowl back of a length and finally succeeded in tempting Punter to edge one behind to the slips. It perhaps tells you, the Indian seamers were just not good enough.

In the last few years before Punter's retirement, early in his his innings, he looked very vulnerable when a bowler bowled full and looked to get him out lbw. Once he got set, back of a length bowling on an off-stump channel troubled him (I have explained about it in detail before). 

Let me clarify that I am in no way trying to defend uncle Fletch in this article. When ardent cricket fans talk so much about an international cricket coach though; you wonder whether just waving a magic wand and telling abracabradabra can help a team to win games :)

For India to do well in test cricket, they should look at domestic cricket. India should prepare sporting tracks at least in Ranji trophy, as it will test a  batsman's skills and also give a bit of encouragement for the soon to be extinct tribe in India, fast bowlers. It will help youngsters like Jadeja to ameliorate their standards and as a result, when he plays test cricket, he may not look clueless against the likes of Anderson and Swann.

Anyway, Fletch no doubt should be held accountable for all those disasters that India have suffered. It is just that even those non performing players and maybe even the captain should be held accountable for the defeats as well.

The captain with supposedly a Midas Touch Dhoni; after the series defeat against England,

"It has been tough," Dhoni said after the draw in Nagpur that gave the series to England, "But there are not many things that will come close to when we lost the 2007 50-over World Cup. This is not even close to that."

After going through that statement by MSD, I am just speechless :)

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