Fletcher defends abandoned chase
It is a sign of the times that India not pressing for a Test win and remaining content with a 1-0 series victory becomes raging news. Not long ago, India's supporters would have lapped up the series win with glee. The times, they are a-changing. Of course, not long ago, India weren't the No.1 team in the world. On Sunday, ESPNcricinfo's commentary feedback was filled with angry emails, raging against the decision to give up the chase in Dominica. "Shame on India. Black day for cricket," screamed one. "Calling off a Test match needing 86 runs off 90 balls looks crazy to me," said another. Fire was raging in India. Peace and joy in Babylon.
And so curiosity prevailed at the press conference to see the Indian team's reply to that criticism. Duncan Fletcher, India's coach, turned up. And he decided to counterattack. He got increasingly irritated with the constant questioning. Surely he expected it?
Two minutes into the conference, Fletcher was beginning to steam. "I said it before. It [run-scoring on that pitch] was difficult. Once it got to four or five runs per over we were struggling to score. We were struggling to score three runs per over. The side decided it was difficult to get those runs and thought what's the point in going there and ending up maybe with just one side able to win it."
Three and half minutes into it, he was fed up. "Huh ... I have covered it. I have been repeating myself the whole time. I have told you it was difficult to score runs. If a man on 40 is struggling to score at three runs an over, how can you expect someone to go in there and knock five or six runs an over?"
His reaction wouldn't have surprised many. When he coached England, the local press called him Mr. Grumpy. How he manages the media shouldn't be an issue; how he manages the Indian team is the real deal, and by the perception you get from talking to players, he has started off on a fine note. Still, the abandoned chase rankled many.
He offered explanations for giving up. The chief reason according to him was the pitch. It was a difficult track to score runs on. It wasn't hard to stay in there but apparently it was tough to get moving, especially for the new batsmen. The fall of Suresh Raina sealed it for the team. "Once Raina was sent in he found it very difficult. He had gone there as the left-hander to take on the legspin bowler. But it was turning straightaway; they block off one side and it's always difficult to chase four runs an over in a Test match because you can do what you like with the field; there are no fielding limitations, and the most important thing was the wicket was very slow. Once it's so slow you can't play your shots, and that's a huge advantage for the bowling side. Unless there was some real bad bowling it was difficult to score."
Raina played 18 deliveries and scored eight runs. There were no boundaries. Fletcher said that more than his dismissal, the fact that he was unable to score during his stay was what decided the matter for them. "If he had gone in there and hit a couple of boundaries and then got out we would have said let's keep going because it's easy to score runs. Even Rahul [Dravid] said it wasn't easy to score runs."
The feeling one got was that perhaps someone like Virat Kohli could have been sent in ahead of VVS Laxman and asked to have a go. Kohli had had a poor series and there was nothing to lose. He would, perhaps, have cherished the opportunity to get out there, make a name for himself and get some confidence.
There is this other thought that's prevalent in the Indian fans' minds. Shouldn't the world's No.1 team go out there and make a statement? Wouldn't Australia at their prime have gone for it? "Well, you don't think we made a statement here?", Fletcher responded when the question was put to him. "I think we made a statement. We came here with four top players missing - Sehwag, Gambhir, Tendulkar and Zaheer - and we have won 1-0; I think that's quite a statement. We are not sitting back on it, because at the end of the day we would have liked to have won 4-1 in the ODIs and 2-0 in the Tests. And that could have happened in Barbados. We have to look at this one and say this was a tough one to win. In Barbados, with another half an hour, if the bad light hadn't come in I think we could have won.
"I just think that when you look back at the pessimism with which people reacted when this side was selected, winning three series is great achievement."
Fletcher said he was happy with the series as a whole and there were many positives to emerge. "This series has been very good. Some youngsters were given an opportunity and especially the bowlers. Ishant Sharma winning the Man of the Series has shown a lot of promise. Unfortunately for Munaf, he had to sit out the first two Tests and it was very hard to ask him to come here, and a bloke like PK would have obviously found it very difficult with this very slow wicket and it didn't really swing. From a bowling point of view they should have learnt a lot and hopefully they have.
"Only thing is, it would have been nice if some of the batsmen had got some runs but it was good at the end of the day that all the batsmen got runs at some stage and that is very good for the England series."
Fletcher said the experience would be immensely beneficial to the young batsmen. "Just to be involved with the legends like Rahul Dravid and Laxman will only do them good. It was very difficult for them."
He turned avuncular for a moment and showed great understanding and sympathy for the likes of Virat Kohli, M Vijay, S Badrinath. "It's more difficult for young Indian cricketers than anyone else because they are given such limited opportunity and they have to try and replace these great players. They just put pressure on themselves and you can't stop putting that kind of pressure on yourself. You know you just get one or two opportunities and it will affect you. Hopefully they have learnt the mental side of things and it will do them some good."
Just don't ask him about the chase, though.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo