India have potential to be a great side - Fletcher
One of the important events of this series for India, apart from the opportunities for the youngsters to prove their worth without the guiding presence of the seniors, is the debut of Duncan Fletcher as coach. He came heavily recommended by Gary Kirsten and his approach to coaching is slowly filtering through the anonymity that he cherishes. In the training sessions, he rarely addresses the players in a group. He will pick out a player or wait for him to walk up and have a chat. Even inside the secrecy of the team hotels, he says he prefers one-on-one conversations.
"If someone comes and chats to me, we just have a quiet chat," Fletcher said. "But that's just been the way that I have always operated and I will continue to operate like that. I have always liked one-on-one situations. People tend to be more free and comfortable in that situation. They are freer to ask questions so if they get it wrong they are not embarrassed. It's between me and the player. Why should I get it out in the media and help them get onto the bandwagon? That's why I go one-on-one because I think there is a lot of confidentiality required."
At the end of the third ODI, Fletcher went to Rohit Sharma and told him that he had rarely seen someone finish a game in such style and with such ease, and lavished more praise at the press conference.
He also talked about his coaching philosophy. "It's important that I come here to first observe and understand them, to gain each other's respect, I mean that's the first thing. Get to understand how they think. People accept messages in different ways. So it's crucial how they communicate with other people. Sometimes if you rush in, it's very easy to destroy a cricketer and far harder to help a cricketer. I just have to be patient."
This tour doesn't have many Indian reporters and so far Fletcher hasn't been hounded by the media. He did get a sneak peek, though, before the third ODI. Suddenly, a reporter asked him, "Geoffrey Boycott has said that even his mom can coach this Indian team. What do you have to say?" Fletcher didn't show any anger, nor even slight irritation. He just said calmly, "I don't want to comment on that."
As you would expect this is the warm-up tour for him as a coach. The time to get to know the players, settle in and be accepted and respected. Respect is a constant theme in his vocabulary. Even in his first media conference in Chennai after he was named as a coach, he said, "You have to gain their [players'] respect and they have to gain my respect. And that's what this is about. Once you have that then it makes your job easier."
It must be hard not to come with any perceptions about players, especially in a team like India, but Fletcher says that was the most important thing that he had to do before he took up the job. "A lot of people have a lot of things to say about the players and other people involved in the set-up, but it's very important that you go in with a very clear mind about the players and make up your own mind about them. That's why I have stood back and observed and see how they react to things. It's important for me that this procedure takes place."
He has liked what he has seen so far from this Indian team. "This [third ODI] was a game where we struggled but we won. It shows two things: the character of the team, which is very very important, and that we can win from those situations. That's not easy. Most sides would crumble under that sort of pressure and so it's good to win so that you know how to win from those situations. By winning the series three-nil already they have shown great capability with bat and ball. What has impressed me is the way they have thrown themselves on the field in this heat. They have got the potential and the ingredients to be a great side."
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo