Stern Words October 26, 2006

More power, not less

John Stern on Duncan Fletcher - England's back-seat driver

Duncan Fletcher and Michael Vaughan: consultant and managing director of England © Getty Images

Peter Moores, England's academy director and one of the favourites to succeed Duncan Fletcher, believes a coach has two choices: change the team or change himself.

Football managers like Sir Alex Ferguson, who has been running Manchester United for 20 years, can and do change the team on a regular basis with transfers. Cricket coaches, at club or international level, do not have that luxury. It is a more organic process. Cricketers' careers last longer than footballers' and winning teams tend not to change much.

Everyone knows what a football manager does. They pick the team, decide the tactics and live or die by the results. The nature of cricket is different. It is impossible and undesirable for the coach to have complete control. The captain is the man who calls the shots on the field and in most cases is the primary interface between management and players.

Fletcher, who has been a successful businessman in a previous life, likened Michael Vaughan's role to that of the company managing director while the coach is a consultant. For the traditionalists and the sceptics (eg: Geoff Boycott), this analogy is a screen behind which an unsuccessful coach can hide. In reality, it is a legitimate articulation of a complex and unique sporting relationship.

Unless the coach has total control over every aspect of team affairs (as a Ferguson-type manage would) then it seems logical to think that they have a shelf-life, that players switch off because they've heard it all before. But most cricket teams do not work this way. Cricket does not work this way. A rousing, tub-thumping speech might get everyone going for a 90-minute football or rugby match but it's a pretty pointless exercise if the captain has just won the toss, decided to bat and nine of the players are about to put their feet up.

Fletcher's England makes the captain centre stage. Fletcher is the strategist, the back-seat driver. He heads up a coaching team; it is not just about one man.

Fletcher has been England coach for seven years so he may well be coming to the end of his natural span. It was generally assumed that he would go after the World Cup but the timing of Boycott's comments this week is bizarre, not to say destabilising just as the Ashes hovers into view.

Although the target of Boycott's criticism is the appalling run of one-day form, the underlying tone of his newspaper column was that Fletcher was presiding over a group of players who had become cosy and complacent, also that Fletcher himself is now beyond reproach.

Unusually for a man in his position, Fletcher is not on a fixed-term contract. He is a permanent member of staff at the ECB. When he ceases to be England coach, it seems likely a position would be found for him should he wish it.

I don't believe Fletcher has exhibited complacency. He has though shown exceptional loyalty to the players who won the Ashes, even the ones who have barely played since. He has appeared reluctant to embrace the inevitable changes. He clung to Geraint Jones until his position became untenable and he was initially suspicious of Monty Panesar. It is believed that Andrew Flintoff was not his preferred choice as captain.

Football managers always get the team they want. Maybe Fletcher needs more power not less.

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John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer