x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Indian summer calms Fletcher for England storm

Paul Radley finds the India coach in unusually expressive mood ahead of the eagerly-awaited series with England.

Duncan Fletcher, the India coach, left, addresses the British media, for the first time in four years, at Taunton yesterday.
Duncan Fletcher, the India coach, left, addresses the British media, for the first time in four years, at Taunton yesterday.

The shades were off. Or at least perched neatly on top of his smart new black Team India cap.

Duncan Fletcher must have been thrilled. "It is very exciting, to tell you the truth," he said. Given that India's new coach usually betrays as much emotion as a breeze-block, this was heady stuff.

His excitement, it turned out, did not stem from prospect of renewing the fight with his former tormentors in the UK press, after a four-year hiatus.

Rather, he appears to be enthusiastic about the chance to shoot the breeze with greats of the game like Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid on a daily basis.

In fact, Fletcher's first meeting with the media with whom he endured a mostly terse relationship during his stint in charge of England was a particularly civil affair.

When he and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the India captain, alighted the stage, after 25 minutes, the assembled ranks were in celebratory mood.

"Those 10 minutes of Fletcher was worth about four years of him when he was with England," one said. "We want more Fletcher."

Life was not always this cordial. When Fletcher finished with England, the weight of the world appeared to have crushed him.

He should have been fondly remembered as the mastermind behind England's first Ashes win in 18 years, after he oversaw the dramatic series win in 2005.

However, his legacy crumbled when England followed a 5-0 Ashes whitewash in Australia with a World Cup capitulation in 2007.

Given the acerbic response from his critics, many observers thought Fletcher would be lost to international cricket for good. The intensity of coaching at the top of the game was too much. Odd then, that he decided to take up surely the most high-pressure job in cricket, that of the India boss.

"It is strange for me," he said. "I never thought we would be back in this role. When I left England I just thought I wouldn't get involved with cricket. But having worked [in a coaching consultancy role] with South Africa, New Zealand - and with Hampshire to some degree - I got the bug again."

His return with India is unlikely to be a valedictory tour for Fletcher, but yesterday's press conference provided a reminder that England are up against one of the sharpest minds in cricket.

Fletcher tried down to play down his influence on the current England side, by pointing to the fact only a few players remain from the side he left four years ago.

Yet there are so many themes both in cricket here and more widely, which bear his significant imprint. The decision review system? It was one of a variety of products - he also devised the car registration system of his native Zimbabwe - born from Fletcher's mind.

So what of the decision of India not to have it for this series? "I respect their decision," he said.

Warm-up matches? Fletcher was often criticised for preferring to play 13 or 14-a-side matches at the start of tours, thus devaluing the games themselves. Yet he remains convinced that giving more players a chance is beneficial, and he would prefer it if this opening tour match in Taunton was the same.

Graeme Swann? Fletcher ostracised the off-spinner after one ill-fated tour of South Africa, but since he left, Swann has bloomed into the world's top spin bowler.

Fletcher is happy for him. "He has done really well," he said of Swann.

"He appreciates what he has to do, on and off the field in the international arena. You can see the way he holds himself, he is a very impressive cricketer now."

Andrew Strauss, one of his former proteges, then went on to speak glowingly of the high regard in which he holds Fletcher, "both as a coach and as a man".

"You always feel proud if you can help people," Fletcher said. "If young guys develop into top-class international players, it gives you that thrill. That is probably why I took the job."