Surprise, surprise: Fletcher to remain India coach for another year

Despite some of India's heaviest defeats, the Englishman's contract has been renewed.

Fletcher with bowling coach Joe Dawes

Duncan Fletcher has been retained as India’s head coach for another year. The decision was taken at the BCCI’s working committee meeting in Mumbai. Fielding coach Trevor Penney also gets a one-year extension. 

The stone-faced Englishman, who had taken the reigns of the team immediately after the high of the World Cup win in 2011, has presided over some of India’s worst Test defeats.

His reputation has been redeemed to an extent by India’s back-to-back wins in the on-going series against Australia. Failure in this series would probably have led to his swift termination.

"The board has decided to extend his contract," BCCI president N. Srinivasan said today, adding that the terms of Fletcher's contract haven't been discussed. "I can't tell you the deliberations of the board. All I can tell you is what is the decision. We have decided to extend it."

A BCCI official was quoted as saying by PTI that Fletcher had to see the tour of South Africa through.

"Since he has been with the team for two years, we don't want to take a knee-jerk reaction considering the next big Test series is in South Africa. It will be risky and unfair on a new coach to give him charge in South Africa and expect good results from him," the official said.

NDTV quoted Sunil Gavaskar wondering aloud: "I wonder whether an Indian coach would have survived after 10 Test defeats."

Former India opener Aakash Chopra said the extension comes as a 'shock'. "I don't think he has done anything in the past 24 months... to have his contract extended," Chopra said. "Perhaps the team knows a thing or two (about Fletcher) that we don't, otherwise I can't fathom (this decision)."

Bishan Singh Bedi was even more scathing: “It’s BCCI’s money, if they want to blow it, let them,” Bedi told Wisden. “I have no time for these people. It’s an Indian concern. An Indian should be in charge. I have always said it and I maintain it.”

Under Fletcher, India lost eight consecutive Tests in England and Australia in 2011-12. This was followed by India’s first Test defeat at home to England since 1984. The team was none the better in a key series at home against Pakistan.

Fletcher inherited an aging team from his predecessor, the South African Gary Kirsten, and presided over the retirements of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman in Tests and Sachin Tendulkar in ODIs. But the team management's inability to develop the next group of leaders and find young talent to boost the bench strength has received severe flak, a lot of it being directed at Fletcher and skipper MS Dhoni.

Former captain Dilip Vengsarkar had recently said that Fletcher should be ‘sacked immediately’.

“I don’t know what his role is, I can’t understand why he doesn’t watch domestic cricket,” Vengsarkar had said. “He’s been there for over a year-and-a-half, but it’s time for him to go...I don’t know who is our bowling coach...Don’t know what he has been doing for the past 10 months.”

Dhoni had backed the under-fire coach after the extraordinary string of defeats during the Australia tour last year. "He’s a great guy to have," Dhoni had said.

"He’s one of the most experienced coaches around, the small technical things he knows about bowling and batting, it’s very crucial to have. It’s not like he has become the coach and we have lost two series and he’s to be blamed for all the defeats, it's up to the 11 players to go out and perform."

Fletcher had come to the team with the backing of the highly successful Kirsten, under whom India had risen to No. 1 in Tests before winning the ODI World Cup at home.

Fletcher had been South Africa's coach during Kirsten's playing days. His technical nous has been praised in the past, especially for the way he plotted Australia's downfall in the 2005 Ashes.

But since his arrival as India's coach, the team's bowling stock has dwindled, their first-choices openers have lost confidence, form and finally their places in the team, and replacements have been hard to find. Meanwhile, there has been plenty of chatter about a purported rift between Dhoni and some of the team's seniors. 

Dravid had suggested that India's coach ought to attend domestic games to develop a greater understanding of the talent available to the national team.

“I remember John Wright or Greg Chappell consistently attending selection committee meetings, watching domestic matches... I think over the last three-four years, we’ve seen that coaches have taken a slightly more detached, or a slightly more backward role to our selections... I don’t think Gary watched a lot of domestic cricket...Duncan has not really done that as well,” Dravid had said.

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