Well begun is half done goes the well known adage. These are very early days but at least Duncan Fletcher has made the right initial moves. At his first press conference since taking over as India coach the 62-year-old former Zimbabwe captain came across as someone who knows his job and is looking forward eagerly to taking charge. That is, in a manner of speaking for Fletcher who coached England for eight years made it clear that his approach would be amiable rather than dictatorial much like his predecessor Gary Kirsten.
It is now becoming clear why Kirsten recommended Fletcher for the role for in outlook and method there is a lot of similarity between the two. One remembers when Kirsten took over three years ago he also made the right moves by saying and doing the right things. The affable South African was a welcome change from the autocratic Greg Chappell and it was hoped that in the happy and amiable atmosphere great things could be achieved. Well, as subsequent events underlined great things were achieved – the No 1 ranking in Tests, the No 2 rankings in ODIs and a World Cup triumph being the most famous.
Fletcher takes over with the Indian team enjoying an exalted status and he is aware of his responsibilities. One is sure that he is also aware that while it is comparatively easy to get to the top it is harder to stay there. That will be Fletcher's main challenge – to ensure that the Indian team continues to be at the top, continues to dominate the Test scene and if possible get them to the top of the tree in the limited overs game. He may also have to contend with the retirements of some seniors during his two-year tenure and ensure that the transition is smooth. Fortunately for Fletcher the Indian bench strength is strong and he just has to see that the right players fill in the slots vacated.
An interesting point that Fletcher pointed out at the press conference is that he mentored Kirsten and that was one of the chief reasons that influenced Kirsten to recommend him for the post and for the BCCI to appoint him. In fact as he said Kirsten followed his philosophy. "He came and spoke to me before he took up the Indian job and I offered him advice on how to handle situations and he took that on board." Obviously Kirsten realized that Fletcher's methods of coaching were right for the Indians and he turned out to be a highly successful.
The transition then could not have been smoother for even if Fletcher's record as an international player is modest no one can argue that he has made his mark as a coach. Great players need not necessarily be great coaches as we have seen in the case of Greg Chappell. Many of the coaches who have been in charge of Test playing nations have not had outstanding records as players but that has not stopped them from pulling in their weight when it comes to mentoring the sides.
Under the circumstances Fletcher should be given a fair deal and some time before the results are seen. Things do not happen overnight in a fiercely competitive field that international cricket is. It took some time for Kirsten to be in charge before the upward graph in the Indian team's fortunes started to appear. Fletcher is aware that his is perhaps the most demanding job in international cricket. But that does mean a change in approach from Kirsten's successful coaching mantra. The blueprint is already there and all that Fletcher has to do is to follow it.
To his credit Fletcher made it clear that while to some degree the coach has to try and influence the players basically his role would be to offer advice to them whenever they needed it. And as he was quick to point out he had an excellent record in the sub-continent leading England teams to back to back Test series victories in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Like Kirsten before him Fletcher said he would look to building mutual respect during his stint with the Indian team. "You have to gain their respect and they have to gain my respect," he said. "Once you have that then it makes your job easier. It's something you just have to work on as time progresses. I have worked with some big players elsewhere as well and you have just got to develop this man-management process." He also did not forget to mention that the coach's relationship with the captain was of paramount importance and spoke highly of MS Dhoni's leadership qualities. "I have always had a high regard for Dhoni," he said pointing out that he had written quite a few articles on how he rated him as a very good captain not only on the field but how he handles the players off it.
While ruling out wholesome changes Fletcher said he had been closely observing the Indian players over the last few months during his role as batting consultant to South Africa and New Zealand. Being quietly efficient is obviously Fletcher's style and interestingly enough that was Kirsten's approach too.