Shastri appointment is bad news for Fletcher

Blog Opinion

It is one of those statements that you take to be a euphemism for negotiating a pay off, but time will tell. Fletcher, one of the most experienced international coaches on the planet, now has a TV commentator as his boss.

India have lost a Test series away from home. This in itself shouldn't be all that surprising. In the three and a half years since they appointed Duncan Fletcher they have managed just two Test wins out of 20 away Tests.

One of those came all the way back in 2011 against the West Indies in Kingston. The other was the match at Lord's where they took a one nil series lead against a hapless England devoid of confidence.

The response to all of this? Well, of course, it was to appoint Ravi Shastri to oversee Fletcher and his team. Well, at least what is left of his team. Bowling coach Joe Dawes and fielding coach Trevor Penney have been 'given a break'.

It is one of those statements that you take to be a euphemism for negotiating a pay off, but time will tell. Fletcher, one of the most experienced international coaches on the planet, now has a TV commentator as his boss.

This is not the first time this has happened either. During the IPL Sunil Gavaskar was given the job of running the tournament. While he clearly has some experience of being a cricketer, he has little in administration.

Shastri had a brief stint as India coach back in 2007, in the aftermath of a disastrous World Cup campaign. What he brings that Fletcher doesn't isn't clear, other than the fact that he isn't Fletcher: A quality that could well be much admired by Indian fans right now.

That questions are being asked of Fletcher is understandable. England were there for the taking in this series. A captain horribly out of form. Senior players misfiring. A side packed with mere children in terms of Test experience.

After Lord's they had a chance to hammer England. They had one change forced on them for the Southampton Test, Ishant Sharma was injured. But they went defensive in picking a batsman in place of a bowling all rounder. While Stuart Binny was far from impressive with bat or ball, the change in the make up of the side spoke volumes of India's intent.

In a team where you have Ravi Jadeja batting seven and the impressive Bhuvi Kumar batting eight, sacrificing a bowling option for more batting seemed to suggest India were happy with what they had, rather than wanting to go for the win.

Was this Fletcher's call? Was in Dhoni's? To try and work out the unwieldy decision making structures of Team India is a job for an experienced cryptanalyst, not for those of us without such skills.

Much has been made of the dropped chance off Alastair Cook by Jadeja at Southampton, and perhaps its significance is overstated, but it was a crucial moment. The Indian slip cordon leaked more chances than an old car leaks fluids.

Several English batsmen were given second lives, but no one got more benefit from their sloppiness than Cook. He has scored three vital and confidence-boosting half centuries, but they were far from convincing. That said, runs are runs are runs. Good players find a way.

Whether that one dropped catch was the turning point or not, from that point onwards India were not in this series. They conceded close to 600 runs in that innings, going on to lose that match by 266 runs. It was an impressive come back from England, who had some luck but made the most of it.

India just seemed to give up. Fielding standards fell even further, the batting looked even more scatterbrained. The bowling became toothless, and perhaps most tellingly the captaincy seemed to sink again. While Fletcher needs to be made to answer for all of this, the issues facing India are manifold.

The culture of Team India seems lackadaisical. They players seem short of confidence, and short of desire. Maybe this is Fletcher's fault, but looking at sides he has led in the past that seems unlikely. He has always instilled a fighting spirit in his teams.

So maybe the issues are deeper. Certainly the lack of overseas experience in domestic cricket, the relentless schedule and the high expectations with play a part in the way India approach overseas Tests.

So on to the big question. As Fletcher is maneuvered out the door, it seems if Dhoni will remain in charge for the duration. That he is the favoured son of the omnipotent N Srinivasan is well known, but you would think if he was captaining any other Test side such a sustained period of failure would mean he was dismissed.

As it is he will carry on regardless. He will tell you that he is just focusing on the 'process'. What that is we are not sure, but Dhoni is thinking about it. Of that you can be sure.

We will see Shastri sat next to Fletcher in the dressing room for the ODIs. Overseeing him. Perhaps he will ask Duncan to smile more, perhaps he will have suggestions about fielding drills. Perhaps he will carry them out in the same suit he wears when he goes out to interview the captains at the toss.

What we can be sure of is that all of this is bad news for Fletcher. There may be need of a scapegoat, and right now the BCCI are looking at Fletcher and thinking he has horns, a little beard and a stubborn streak.

<b>Peter Miller</b>