Defensive to the bitter end
For such a poker-faced individual, Duncan Fletcher's autobiography has caused a surprising storm. Behind the Shades might allude to a man opening up from the shell into which he forced himself throughout his tenure. But behind the sunglasses lies a bitter man at odds with the world.
First of all, let's make one thing clear: this is a cracking book and a proper, human autobiography, unlike most of the anodyne, media-spun drivel on the shelves. True to character, in a bar in his hotel in central London, Fletcher remains doggedly unrepentant about the Flintoff furore last week, in which the allrounder's taste for alcohol was revealed in the Daily Mail's serialisation of the book. Does he regret not taking a firm stance and stripping him of his captaincy? Does he heck.
"Not at all. What would you people have written if we had exposed it, dropped him as captain, and we didn't win the Commonwealth Bank series?" he asked. "Will you tell me what you would have written about that tour? Tell me." Hands in pockets, a challenging look on his face, this was the Fletcher we know. Determined, unashamed, insistent.
"Well we won that series. If I had dropped him, the character would have gone and we'd have got slaughtered in the Commonwealth Bank series. We probably would have got bowled out for 60 - who's to say? We didn't. I kept quiet. I was loyal to him [Flintoff], I was loyal to the team. He let me down. Loyalty goes in two ways. I'm loyal to you if you're loyal to me."
Fletcher hasn't spoken to Flintoff, and doesn't plan on doing so. "He must phone me," he says. Flintoff was undoubtedly the key figure in England regaining the Ashes in 2005, a triumph Fletcher regards as his finest hour, but there is a seam of pent-up jealousy in him, a feeling that the quiet man has been too quickly forgotten.
"Look, it was my fault," he eventually accedes. "That was one mistake I made, wanting to ignore the media. Maybe I should have made more of an effort working with them. I just wanted to get involved with the side, to work with them and get them going."
|Fletcher's biggest flaw was to let the burning gaze of publicity thaw his once impenetrable façade|
For a coach famed for his jowl-drooping demeanour, it comes as little surprise to hear his repeated assertions of the "happy changing rooms" he has overseen, from sunny Western Province to drizzly Glamorgan. More revealing are his thoughts on the nineties, a period of forgettable horror for England, but one that Fletcher - he implies - wishes he could have been part of.
"If the teams had been handled properly in the nineties, well, who knows what would have happened? They should have had a great team. Nasser Hussain, Graham Thorpe, Graeme Hick, Mark Ramprakash. Not forgetting Chris Lewis and Dominic Cork. You just think of those players. Andrew Caddick, Darren Gough, Angus Fraser... although I think Fraser was a plodder - like Sidebottom; not quick enough, and I wouldn't have picked him.
"How did they not perform? Was it because of the influence of players from the 80s - which I think it was - their coaching, their mindsets and so on?"
Fletcher is happy to knock Ian Botham, and eager to attack Geoffrey Boycott - two of the 1980s brigade he resents so strongly - but, curiously, less willing to divulge his supporters. Nasser Hussain and Mike Atherton were "fantastic," but he remains intriguingly mute about which of the current Test side did, or did not, support him.
"How many of those former players who have castigated me won anything? Have they ever won a county championship? No. Has Botham? He was at Somerset with Joel Garner and Vivian Richards. Did Somerset win anything? No.
"My track record is there. Prince Edward school captain: it was a crap side but we were successful. Captained the top side in the Zimbabwe Old Hararians, left it, went to a second-division side. Took them into the first division and were unbeaten champions for three or four years. Then you go to Glamorgan... and the Lancashire league. You speak to them there. They were coming last, and we nearly won it. We finished third. So I'm proud of my record."
The angry justification of his record is contrasted by the sadness with which he speaks of Marcus Trescothick's illness.
"I don't often say this, and I don't want to go overboard, but English cricket owes Marcus a bit, for all the stick he took... and yet he's such a fine cricketer." He shakes his head, if not quite in disbelief, then in remorse.
"You look at his Test average, his one-day cricket, but on top of all that he is the most passionate of cricketers. He just loves the game. He just loves cricket. He's just such a nice guy in the changing room, a gentle giant. He was just a pleasure, always funny - always pulling each others' legs the whole time. He was fantastic."
But Trescothick is part of the past, something you sense Fletcher is struggling to let go of.
"I was trying to put across my side of the story and the difficulties I had as coach," he says of the book, with an exasperated sigh. Is this the fixed-faced, tough-as-steel Fletcher we know? When has he ever cared a jot what the public, let alone the media, think of him?
Even protected by his shades, Fletcher's biggest flaw was to let the burning gaze of publicity thaw his once impenetrable façade. As his ship sank, the book was one last desperate plea for recognition; maybe even for acceptance. It is a sad end to an outstanding tenure.
Behind the Shades: The Autobiography by Duncan Fletcher (Simon & Schuster, £18.99)
Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo