'Methodical' Fletcher backed to succeed
John Buchanan, the former Australia coach, believes Duncan Fletcher's vast coaching experience equips him ideally for the task of coaching India - perhaps even better than his predecessor, Gary Kirsten.
Fletcher and Buchanan sparred often as the rival coaches of England and Australia, and the Zimbabwean's appointment to replace Kirsten grants him the opportunity to shoot for the kind of sustained spell at the top of the world rankings that he was unable to achieve with the ECB.
Speaking to ESPNcricinfo as he prepares to take up his new post as New Zealand's director of coaching, Buchanan said Fletcher's similarities to Kirsten, who he coached at Western Province, were allied to a lengthy record of coaching achievement.
"He's obviously got a pretty good track record on the international and county circuits, and he's got a pretty wide range of coaching experience," Buchanan said. "He shares some similarities to Gary Kirsten and that obviously is something India would like to maintain, but he also has had greater experience, which should be useful for the phase the Indian team are about to enter into."
This phase includes tours to England and Australia - Fletcher is unlikely to be in place for the West Indies trip that precedes them - and managing the task of regenerating an ageing team. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman cannot go on for too much longer, while the pace spearhead Zaheer Khan is also reaching the latter stages of his career.
"Ahead of him certainly will be the opportunity to sustain the success the Indian team have had up to and including the World Cup," Buchanan said. "One of the features of that Australian team from the late 1990s through to 2007 was high performance maintained for a long period of time even as a number of players were turned over, and that will be India's quest now."
As the England coach, Fletcher was known for seeking every possible advantage over his opponents, whether it was resorting to defensive extremes when trying to curtail a rampant Tendulkar in 2001, or using substitute fielders to keep his pacemen fresh and drive Ricky Ponting to distraction during the 2005 Ashes series. He also made sure he kept his distance from opponents and public alike.
"I wouldn't say Duncan and I were ever very close," Buchanan said. "He could be a brusque character, he had great competitiveness, which could be seen as keeping to himself at times, you're in the heat of battle and so the opportunities to get to know each other can be scarce."
The distance between Fletcher and his rivals contrasted with the closeness he exhibited to his team, the privileged few to know the "real" man. "Knowing a a number of people who worked closely with him they really enjoyed his methods and his style and the majority were generally pretty happy in how they worked together," Buchanan said, who worked with Troy Cooley after he left England to return to Australia in 2006.
"In that position if you try to be popular you don't last too long, you need to establish your way and hope that the players and the staff and administration of that team or country buy into what you bring."
Another man expecting Fletcher to succeed in his India stint was England under-19 coach Tim Boon, who has worked alongside Fletcher between 2001 and 2005 with the England team. Boon says Fletcher will be "at his best" for India. Though Fletcher is 18 years older than India's outgoing coach Kirsten, Boon said age would not be a factor. "What you need to remember is that Gary Kirsten played under Duncan Fletcher. Duncan's experience will far outweigh issues of how old he is. He is strong and fit for his age, he will be involved in all the drills on the training ground, he is very a tough character."
Fletcher had spend four years since leaving the England job, working in an independent coaching consultancy in Cape Town and Boon said, "He's had a rest since his last international job. This gives you enough time to look back and reflect on your work. You are at your best stage as a coach, John Wright is the same with New Zealand now. Duncan will be ready for the job."
Boon said overall Fletcher was "methodical" and an excellent technical coach who did very well working one-on-one with players. "He is very good at identifying talent, which is how an Ashes team was put together in 2005." Boon said he found Fletcher the "best off the field captain" with whom team leaders could discuss tactics and the problems of various match situations. "It is his experience that Dhoni will tap into and be able to sit and talk through with him."
As for the demands of coaching India, Boon said, "Fletcher is very resourceful and mentally very tough. He has an enormous amount of respect for cricketers in the sub-continent, particularly the Indians. He will look at the India job as a challenge he would want to have a go at, and a fantastic honour, it could be the final chapter in the story of his international coaching career."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo; Sharda Ugra is a senior editor of ESPNcricinfo