India's coach Duncan nears the noose

It seems a long time ago since India were considered the number one Test team. They were never the most convincing overseas but things have become so bad that even home comforts are not working.

It seems a long time ago, far, far away in another galaxy, since India were considered the number one Test team. They were never the most convincing overseas but things have become so bad that even home comforts are not working. It is the sheer nature and number of defeats that has become a huge concern.

When Gary Kirsten left the coaching role, he was lauded and quite rightly. He also got out at the right time. India were safely installed as the best in the long format and had just won the World Cup on home soil.

However, the hands of time were suggesting this was a huge peak. There was not universal approval at Duncan Fletcher's subsequent appointment as he had appeared to have lost value as a coach.

His status as an international mover had been in hibernation for four years and was on a downward gradient with the Ashes debacle in 2006 souring his legacy. Nevertheless, Kirsten recommended him as a man who could bring out the best in players during a transitional period.

Working under the BCCI is not the same as having the ECB bow down to your demands. Fletcher had contracted England players whom he could pretty much keep under lock and key on his watch. The same liberal ways are unbeknown to the Indian cricket authorities.

Kirsten concentrated on the pitch, unlike Greg Chappell, and it paid huge dividends. He could still keep up on the pitch itself with his relative youth with MS Dhoni calling him 'the best thing that has happened to Indian cricket in a long time.'

"Duncan will work well with all the talent," Michael Vaughan said on Twitter after the Zimbabwean's appointment. "His biggest challenge will come from the media … he has never really understood how it works."

But the administrators simply do not allow him to go there. Given that Fletcher has always been good at staying under the radar, the almost total silence is quite unhealthy.

He has now managed another two huge whitewashes of 0-4 in England last year and Australia last winter. For someone who prided himself on the minutiae of preparation, this must surely hurt deeply. Or has he just become numbed by the politics and the dressing room egos?

As India finally search for a scapegoat to salve their wounds and the egos of their ageing and underperforming 'galacticos' like Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar, it appears the time has come to take definitive action.

Losing a first home series since 2004 would be totally unacceptable. Knowing that his reputation was really on the line at home, Fletcher carried out more preparatory work this time, denying England the practice of front-line spinners to face during the warm-up games.

However, the realisation that his spinners have been out bowled by Monty Panesar – someone he never exactly rated – and Graeme Swann must be disturbing. The BCCI is hardly lacking funds, while the Ashwins and Ojhas flounder. Virat Kohli, the star pupil, has completely failed to shine. Where exactly is Fletcher adding value?

It could have all been so different. Dhoni is an intelligent, thoughtful cricketer and exactly the kind of individual that could have worked well with Fletcher's eye for detail. The Indians could have been on the crest of a new wave with a generation of talent coming through.

For all the IPL's faults, you don't have to look too far to see what local talent there is on offer. But the coach will no doubt point to what he can't do under the choking grip of the Big Brother Board.

The Indian coach, whose contract expires in April, may know the answer in five days to the question the Beatles once posed: 'Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four?'

<b>Tim Ellis</b>