Fletcher wants middle order to step up
Duncan Fletcher, under whose watch India have lost five straight away Tests and are struggling at the end of the first day of the sixth, would not say if he felt the Indian batsmen are doing badly, but hoped they, especially those in the middle order, would click together. India were bowled out for 190 after choosing to bat on a greenish SCG track, which would need diligent batting while the pitch was fresh; India lost four wickets in the first session.
Fletcher, however, chose to give credit to the Australian bowlers and blamed the lack of "fortune" when asked about the continuous problems the batting line-up has faced, which shows in how they have gone past 300 - a barely competitive score on a non-dodgy pitch - only once in their last 17 away innings.
"The mood in the change room has been very, very good," Fletcher said. "They have worked very hard at the nets. They are putting in the effort, they are trying their best. They are just some times in cricket we need a little bit of good fortune. If you see Sachin [Tendulkar] today, how many times do you play on from that width? Normally you put that through the covers for four. Sometimes it goes against you, sometimes it runs with you." Tendulkar was the only specialist batsman who looked at ease for a longish period, and played on when driving at a full and wide delivery.
Fletcher spoke of the importance of partnerships. The problem, he said, didn't lie with getting them started, but in converting them into big meaningful ones. "What's crucial is when we get a partnership going, we make sure we take advantage of it," he said. "At times we have got partnerships going, and then suddenly we lose wickets, and haven't been able to take that partnership further. It's crucial in Test cricket that you get those partnerships of 100 and 150 to get that big score that's required."
Fletcher said it was a matter of two or three of India's middle order performing well together. "It's important that they click together," he said. "As a unit they haven't scored consistently - all of them. I mean Rahul [Dravid] batted well in England. He has lost a little bit of form here. Sachin looks as though he is in good nick. There's just probably Laxy [VVS Laxman]. He is striking the ball well, he probably needs a little bit of good fortune. That middle order should be able to put in the good scores we require."
What makes the Indian failure all the more intriguing is that Fletcher is considered to be one of the best men going around when it comes to batting technique. He, though, chose not to speak too much about technical flaws. About Gautam Gambhir's struggle - he fell in the first over today - Fletcher spoke of the mental side of things.
"We have just been working on him to get more positive," Fletcher said. "That's what's crucial with Gautam. We are working on the sort of mental side of it, where we feel he has been quite tentative and pushing at balls instead of going out there and batting like he should. We have seen Gautam. He is an attacking batter. We are trying to get him to be a lot a more positive in his approach. Today the ball he got, it would have been difficult to leave that, pitching on leg stump, going across you. It probably would have got a few left-handers out so early on in your innings."
Fletcher wouldn't get drawn into a debate on the defensive fields that have been India's hallmark during this series. Today, when India could have ended the day close to even if they had taken another wicket towards stumps, India employed well-spread fields in the final few overs. "You have to give credit to the opposition at some stage," he said. "[Ricky] Ponting and [Michael] Clarke came out and batted positively. Clarke was pretty positive. There were a few loose shots upfront there. He looked under a bit of pressure. He could quite easily have nicked one of those early, and they could have been four down."
India's slide in Test cricket has coincided with Fletcher's appointment as the coach of the side when Gary Kirsten left after the World Cup success. He was asked what has gone wrong. "I don't think much has changed," Fletcher said. "I had long chats with Gary. I am very friendly with him. The approach, how you deal with an Indian side, we haven't changed that much."
When asked how bad it will get before it gets better, Fletcher said it could all change as soon as the next innings. "We are pretty confident that at some stage they will get the runs that are required," he said. "In the second innings, let's just wait and see what happens there.
"From tomorrow if we get through and keep them down to a similar score as us, that's not out of the question. I think we can put Australia under little bit of pressure if we bat well in the second innings."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo