Fletcher the person more important than Fletcher the teacher: Harsha Bhogle
It is not always that a student recommends his teacher for a job. It can be tricky because the student, widely travelled and successful himself, may have acquired skills that actually make him better; and the halo he creates around his teacher may not be universally seen. But Gary Kirsten, who has been an honourable man, recommended Duncan Fletcher and the BCCI said “Yes, we do!”
Though a coach neither scores runs nor takes wickets, Fletcher comes with an impressive track record and is widely respected by captains he worked with. Nasser Hussain, a voice that the cricket world can trust, pays him huge compliments and it is interesting that the only people who were less than effusive were those who were watching from more than a hundred yards away. As someone who has been in residence in that suburb of a cricket ground for a long time, I can tell you that we do not always know the dynamics of what is afoot. I’d rather listen to a captain’s or a player’s view on a coach they have worked with.
The challenge facing Fletcher is very different from that he faced when he had the job in England in 1999. England then, had sunk as low as they could and when that happens, self-belief and confidence can exit quite quickly. The only way, really, that England could go from there was up and Fletcher walked alongside two fine captains in Hussain and Michael Vaughan (who too pays him handsome tribute). Winning the Ashes in 2005 was English cricket’s highest point for over twenty years, maybe more.
But now he comes to India, culturally and attitudinally very different, but also enjoying their best standing ever in the world game. India are a side full of confidence but who need to sustain performance in a period that will also see a fairly epochal transition. Three of their best batsmen and their best bowler are in the latter stages of their career and a new generation is on its way. But it is a generation that has not been shaped by Ranji Trophy cricket but by twenty or fifty overs cricket. It is an extraordinarily rich generation with the bulk of the money having arrived through half hour performances. They will need to be mentored through the longer form and that is where I believe Fletcher’s greater role will lie; in being a father figure to a new generation of cricketers who he must, very quickly, begin to understand.
This is a very different generation from any he might have seen. They, certainly the batsmen, are extraordinarily gifted, are confident, even brash, and the subject of more adulation than in any other land. But they are mercurial and temperamental too, periods of excellence mingling with bouts of surprising barrenness. But Kirsten showed that a soft approach works very well with them; the how-can-I-help-you rather than the this-is-how-you-do-it approach. Eventually, when cricketing pedigree is unquestioned, it is the person you are rather than the knowledge you possess that determines success. That will be Fletcher’s test; the person he is more important than the teacher he is.
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