Time for Fletcher to deliver

The Indian coach now has a full year to prepare a team that can compete abroad.

Chief selector Sandeep Patil (L) speaks with coach Duncan Fletcher.

There is little that validates Duncan Fletcher's largely undeserved second term as India's coach. Fletcher's work and India's returns in the last two seasons have been dissected no end - by everybody, apparently, except the men who matter - and indicate utter stasis. From a situation that was to herald a golden age following a fabled World Cup win and the No.1 ranking in Tests, India have lapsed back into their conventional strengths and weaknesses.

Under Fletcher, India have won at home against sub-standard opposition and deflated shamelessly when rivals with a semblance of quality and spine have turned up. Forget about overseas results, the coach's former employers England came from behind to overwhelm the hosts 2-1 late last year.

That was when it was assumed that irrespective of the outcome of the series against Australia, Fletcher would not be granted an extension.

Fletcher to remain India coach for another year

How surprising it is then that the stony face, shaded eyes and reported detachment have earned themselves another tenure, one that will involve diametrically significant assignments: the inconsequential, and last, ICC Champions Trophy in England and an important Test series in South Africa.

Given what we have witnessed in his time in control, are there signs that India have made even the feeblest of attempts to tackle what is presumably, factoring in the range and class of South Africa's current lot, the toughest tour in contemporary cricket?

Agreed, the inputs of a coach and his best made plans can have only so much bearing upon the result; the reasons for his retainer, thus, have about them a modicum of reason. Fletcher's reign coincided with a generational change in Indian cricket.

Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman retired, Zaheer Khan lost his mojo, Sachin Tendulkar returned to terra firma, Virender Sehwag slowed down, and MS Dhoni learnt that even the most well-aligned stars have a tendency to scatter.

That still doesn't release Fletcher of responsibility. Nor does it acquit him of shirking to play a more assertive role amid structures that thrive on controlling and rationing authority.

It is the opinion of some that the only reason Fletcher has been granted another year is because he is a foreigner, a category of persons who are generally treated more favourably by the Board than homegrown candidates. Another point of view criticizes the Zimbabwean for not fostering the kind of openness that Gary Kirsten managed to create in the Indian dressing room.

How a coach - or anybody else for that matter - goes about his job is a function of personality. Dourness doesn't matter if it brings results. Detachment can be excused, even welcomed, if it nurtures a culture of self-governance and responsibility. There is no way of knowing what inputs exactly the coach has provided, or how effective the advice has been; what is known however fails to convey the impression of movement in the right direction.

Many have proposed to extend Fletcher's role in team selection, or at least have a say in it. But unlike John Wright and Greg Chappell, who were regulars at domestic games and also attended selection meetings, Fletcher has been a passive recipient of selectorial whims.

The same old pool of players has been dipped into time and again, initiating a merry-go-round of mediocrity, which is all very well when you're tackling a beleaguered Australia on the sub-continent, very little when you tour.

India play no Test matches between the current series and the tour of South Africa later this year. So don't expect Fletcher to rustle up a secret winning formula in a preparatory phase where his players are on persistent limited-overs duty, one that is almost directly responsible for his fat pay cheque.

What you can expect is a memory-blanking two months of the IPL, an early exit from the tournament in England, an excruciating rout in South Africa, and a new coach this time next year.