Googlies, a bouncer and a faux pas
The first thing about Duncan Fletcher that stood out in his maiden press conference in India was his expression - or lack of it. He maintained a largely impassive face over the brief interaction - all of 19 minutes - but there were a few glimpses of the man that occasionally bubbled over the veil.
The first came when he was asked whether his philosophy of coaching would suit India and its prevailing superstar culture. He didn't hem or haw, he didn't say he would try to fit in, he didn't say that he was hopeful; instead he nailed the question swiftly and effectively. "Gary Kirsten followed my philosophy … and now, by Gary sort of pushing me for this job by taking my credentials to the BCCI, he realised that my philosophy of coaching is right for India." There was no trace of arrogance; just a statement of fact: Kirsten's way was his way (or even the other way round).
This conference will probably be the gentlest that Fletcher will attend during his tenure. There were around 15 journalists, a motley group from the print and electronic media, and public attention was focused squarely on the election results from five states including West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. For perhaps the first and last time, an Indian coach's press conference wasn't even carried live. It was the calm before the storm.
Yet, even in this short span of time Fletcher had to fend off a couple of googlies. Out of the blue came a question about the DRS, which the BCCI has opposed vehemently for some time now. Perhaps unaware of the background, Fletcher said the DRS was here to stay. "I think it's a system that will come in place. Obviously there are imperfections but once they are sorted out, it will play a role." Barely had he completed his reply did N Srinivasan, the BCCI secretary sitting alongside, intervened. He first turned to Fletcher, whispered something to him and turned to the questioner: "That was a loaded question. Mr Fletcher doesn't know the BCCI's stance on DRS. You should have prefaced your question properly. Anyway, it doesn't matter." Fletcher, as ever, wore that impassive cloak on his face.
Later, he was asked his views on the player rotation policy. Again, Srinivasan chose to interject. "It's a selection matter, no? He can give advice but ultimately it will come down to the selectors. But I am sure when the coach sits in on those meetings his views will be taken on board by the selectors."
The cumulative effect of those two brief statements was seen when Fletcher was asked about the possibility of seniors retiring. "That's up to the selectors," he said. "My job is to go out there and offer advice to the players on how to handle some situations. I believe if a player is good enough to play - no matter what his age- he should play. India is fortunate to have outstanding senior players."
There was another moment where his strong character came through, when his unimpressive ODI record as coach of the England team was brought up. "It's interesting," Fletcher began, clearly warming up. "I know that was bandied about [in the media]. But when I left Western Province, and Glamorgan, I had a better record in ODIs...if you go and look at my record there. It was somewhere along 13 matches, I think, for Western Province that played against England sides at first-class level. I didn't lose a match against England … When I played for Zimbabwe, we only played ODIs. As it turned out, we (England) had a better record statistically in tests but I am very comfortable with ODIs."
There was only one genuine faux pas from Fletcher. "Hopefully, my observations on the players will prove useful when I coach the England team."
"I mean the Indian team."
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo