Duncan Fletcher November 9, 2007

Defensive to the bitter end

Behind his sunglasses, Duncan Fletcher is a bitter man - at odds with the world

'That was one mistake I made, wanting to ignore the media' © Getty Images

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.

'English cricket owes Marcus' © Getty Images

"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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Asghar on November 9, 2007, 20:33 GMT

    its so easy to sit in front of a computer in a drawing room and criticize someone who has done so much. i might not be the biggest fan of english cricket but i still respect someone who has done so much for their cricket. where was england before mr. fletcher? he may have instigated some negatives, like the test against pakistan, but he still took english cricket back to their glory days. they had not won the ashes for decades and many coaches tried but he was a pivotal figure in 2005 including freddy flintoff, kevin pieterson and simon jones. you have to give credit where it is due and mr. fletcher in terms of a cricketing point of view deserves a lot of it.

  • Azeem on November 9, 2007, 19:01 GMT

    If someone has kept quiet all along, if someone who hasnt said a word about what he has witnessed for the past many years, then doesnt he have the right to let it all out? No matter if its on a piece of paper or if its on television, who cares? Idiots do. Duncan fletcher had all the rights to say whatever he has said in his book. Why should he have stayed quiet anyway? Try to be in his shoes and you might come to understand, but then, how will you? We shoud all admire and acknowledge of whatever he has written rather than gossiping about it. Moreover, we should just forget about it rather than whining over what has been said in his book. It's about time now people start facing the truth and accepting the faults, because once that's been cleared out, a lot more people would agree of what i have written...just like many others.

  • Phil on November 9, 2007, 18:45 GMT

    what is he talking about when he is criticising Sidebottom he was the pick of the Pace Bowlers against the West Indies and against India,he has done nothing wrong and as for his pace he has reached 90mph on more than one occasion recently. Fletcher is basically going against his word slagging off Flintoff and now he thinks "hmm this might have a Negative impact on my book sales I think I betta say he was can still be captain" He is a hypocrite and I won't even touch his book let alone read it. He is right what he did for English Cricket was excellent, but he is putting across the image that he is a god, and without him England would be as weak as the West Indies are at the moment

  • George on November 9, 2007, 15:39 GMT

    It's a great book in part but when it comes to Fletcher the man, it's a disappointing book. On the controversial issues, he recognises his right to have his say, but he is completely intolerant of others, namely the press, having their say. Why treat those that have write negative articles as pariahs? Aren't others entitled to opinions even if you think theirs are not valid? It astounded me that he was so sensitive - why didn't he just not read the papers?

    I also read his comments above about Fraser & Sidebottom which show his cynical side: Fraser (now a journalist. Coincidence?) might have been a plodder but 177 test wickets at 27 suggests he was a successful one while Sidebottom has been consistently commended by commentators just as qualified as Fletcher for his pace and aggression since his return to international cricket.

    In the book he makes much of having learnt respect at school. When I finished this book, I still respected Fletcher the coach but not Fletcher the man.

  • Aditya on November 9, 2007, 5:54 GMT

    It must be accepted, and admitted, that Mr Fletcher, is one of the best coaches in International Cricket. Why has it become so fashionable, to castigate and point fingers, at individuals, in a self righteous manner? If some negative observations have been recorded about players, they should be deliberated, discarded, and one should move on. And, the positive good, a coach like Mr Fletcher, did for Team England, must not be forgotten, and thought of as past history. England, did the unthinkable, by winning the Ashes, against The Australians, and Mr Fletcher, and Flintoff had a big part to play in the victory.

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