India in England 2011 July 14, 2011

Duncan Fletcher returns to where it all began

The India bandwagon has rolled into town and it has brought with it a familiar face. Duncan Fletcher left the England coaching job after the 2007 World Cup, which began a turbulent time for the team, and now returns to try and plot their downfall and sustain India's grip on the No. 1 ranking in Tests.

The manner in which Fletcher departed the England role - following a 0-5 Ashes whitewash and a dire World Cup - left behind poor memories of a successful period in which the team regained the Ashes in 2005 and became a major Test, although not one-day, force. The Fletcher that returns in 2011 doesn't appear to have changed much; he still wears the dark glasses, still doesn't smile much and still doesn't give much away.

But his challenge is quite different. With England, his job involved coaching a team building towards an ultimate aim and, despite the 2005 Ashes success, they never quite fulfilled what their talent promised. Now, he is in charge of the World Cup holders and the top-ranked Test side. It is possible to suggest the only way from here is down, and failure is not tolerated easily in Indian cricket.

However, Fletcher's coaching juices have started flowing again, after a period when he believed his time in a full-time top job was finished. "To be honest I think I did [hang up the coaching boots]," he said. "It's strange being back in this role. When I left England I didn't think I'd be back, involved in this way. But after doing some consultancy for South Africa, New Zealand and Hampshire I got the bug again.

"Then this opportunity came up, and it was one I couldn't turn down. It does seem a bit strange to be back here, but I've enjoyed working with India. We had a good tour in West Indies and this will be an exciting series to be involved in."

Fletcher will clearly be well paid for his job (although it probably matches the expectations that come with it) but he still retains that hunger to help players, especially batsmen, make the most of potential that other coaches may find tougher to spot. Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan were the best examples from his England days, but so too is the current captain Andrew Strauss.

"I've got huge regard for Duncan as a man and a coach," Strauss said. "He was integral in me changing from a promising county player to a full-fledged Test player. It's great to see him coach India. I'm sure he's delighted with that opportunity."

The situation is slightly different for Fletcher this time around, since India's batting line-up includes some of the finest players to grace the game. In many ways it could be an intimidating position for him to be in, as there will be a complete generational shift within the India team when Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman eventually move on. They may outlast Fletcher, but if they don't, his coaching legacy will be what he can do to replace them.

However, Fletcher still believes the great players can be helped and wants to split his time between working with the senior figures while also nurturing members of the next generation such as Suresh Raina. "It happened in the West Indies where I did a bit of work with Rahul. Every batsman needs help at times - look at the top golfers who lose their game and someone has to be there to help identify the reason. I also work with the young players to pass on knowledge and make sure they get experience as quickly as possible.

"I find it exciting just working with MS [Dhoni] and VVS Laxman who are two legends of the game," he added. "Even talking to Harbhajan Singh over his bowling has been fantastic. When these individuals come in it just helps and inspires you. They can probably teach me more than I can teach them, it is a pleasant and enjoyable journey I hope."

Fletcher is building new friendships with the India team but one of the fascinating sub-plots to this series is his relationship with some current England players. Many began their international careers under Fletcher and his bond with Kevin Pietersen remains especially strong. He keeps in contact with a number of players but chats may be more limited over the next couple of months.

"I have talked to them on the phone since taking the job on odd occasions - not always about cricket," he said. "I'll play it by ear and see how it goes. They are good friends."

Friendship also means knowledge of what they are like as players. Despite the pedigree of the players at India's disposal, Fletcher's inside tips could yet prove a vital factor although both sides are saying a lot has changed in four years.

"I've always said the planning aspect to the Test series is important but not nearly as important as players going out and doing it under pressure," Strauss said. "I don't think he's going to tell them anything they particularly don't know about us. The key with all these plans is to administer them in the middle."

Fletcher, though, is too canny not to have a few ideas up his sleeve. "The team has changed quite a bit," he said. "We'll have to look at the tapes we've got over the next few days. It's difficult to assess how teams are better and who is the best. If you look at statistics it says India are, but England have definitely improved under Straussy and Andy Flower. They've got the side back on track and have played some really good cricket. We are going to need to play very good cricket as well."

And if India play well enough to repeat their series victory from 2007 Fletcher might even manage a smile.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo