Fletcher resigns as England coach
The most successful coach in his adopted country's history leaves immediately after the dead game against West Indies on Saturday. By the end of that match a temporary replacement should have been announced - though the ECB have not ruled out making a permanent appointment at that stage. The first home Test against West Indies begins on May 17, so the need is urgent.
The leading candidate as stand-in is Peter Moores, a uniquely successful coach of Sussex and the current director of the national centre of excellence. "I am sure he's a strong candidate," the board's director of cricket operations John Carr said.
It seems unlikely that any of the other suggested contenders - led by the successful Sri Lanka coach Tom Moody - would accept a temporary appointment. Morgan described Moores' work in his first winter with the academy as "excellent", but refused to speculate on a replacement. "We are well down the track of identifying someone who will come in, be a selector in Duncan's place and be in position quite quickly," Morgan said.
It transpired that Fletcher first offered his resignation to a board official on April 10, the eve of England's laboured win over Bangladesh. "Obviously we were aware of the importance of keeping that information highly confidential through the tournament, in the best interests of the England team performing in the World Cup," Carr said. The players were told at training this morning.
The deadline for appointment of a permanent coach was set by Morgan at July. "But I believe that we can move far more quickly than that." One possible barrier to an early announcement is the Schofield review of England's desperate winter, which included the second Ashes whitewash. The report is not expected until mid to late May. "We are in contact with Mr Schofield to establish the direction of the recommendations regarding the England management," Morgan said.
Appointed in a climate of despair in 1999, Fletcher has been by far England's most successful coach. He raised the Test side from the bottom of the ICC's table to become arguably the world's second-best Test team. "Our performances in the Test match arena have been transformed," Morgan said. "I believe Duncan Fletcher has done a tremendous job for us. But the last winter has been a difficult one and a disappointing one."
England's only experience of temporary coaches is woeful. Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting took charge after the 1999 World Cup, a showing described by Wisden as "not so much disastrous as farcical". It was that mess that Fletcher inherited when he took over later that summer, so it seemed faintly bizarre when Morgan described the stand-in solution as "elegant".
One-day performances, however, have remained miserable under Fletcher. England won just 42% of limited-overs games against serious Test sides during his time, as opposed to more than half before.
The chairman of selectors David Graveney, a man often sidelined in controversial circumstances by Fletcher, described his departure as "very sad". Morgan praised the outgoing coach's work behind the scenes. "Duncan was instrumental in persuading the ECB and the first-class counties to introduce central contracts and provides an excellent legacy for his successor."
A recovery in the CB Series in Australia had left Graveney calling for an apology from the press. But this time it was the ECB which was saying sorry. "I would like to apologise for the manner of our exit from the World Cup," Morgan said. "We've been unsuccessfully in yet another World Cup and I apologise."
The resignation means that five Test sides are either looking for a new coach or likely to have to do so soon. Bob Woolmer's murder leaves Pakistan bereft, Tom Moody is expected to end a successful stint with Sri Lanka at the end of the Cup, while Dav Whatmore has made noises about looking for a new challenge away from Bangladesh. India and Greg Chappell parted ways after things went horribly wrong in the Caribbean.
Morgan dismissed speculation that any of these candidates had already been tapped up. "I can assure you that the board had not approached anyone in advance of finalising the position with Duncan Fletcher." The future of the rest of a much-criticised coaching team - the bowling coach Kevin Shine and assistant Matthew Maynard - is unclear.
Morgan has a clear vision for England's one-day future. "It would be very easy to say we need to look four years ahead and start again and have yet younger people playing," he said. "I don't believe that is the answer. I do believe we need to re-address our policy on the one-day game both domestically and internationally".
So, he was asked, was England's strategy at the World Cup flawed? "With the benefit of hindsight the answer must be yes."
Paul Coupar is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer