Cricket: Fletcher to tighten the nuts and bolts

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The Independent Online
DUNCAN FLETCHER is not a man who gives much away. If you did not know better, he could be Graeme Hick's dad, though in his case the impassive nature and carefully chosen words appear to be a product of inner strength rather than one of confusion.

Coming from the same white Zimbabwean heritage as Hick (he captained him when he was a teenager) Fletcher is like a baobab tree, the famous "inside-out" tree of the African scrub. What you see is not necessarily what you get and in keeping with the man, the tree has a minimal and stark front to protect its complex inner workings.

Appointed as England cricket coach last June, Fletcher only took up the appointment in October. But if that gap allowed second thoughts after England's losses to New Zealand, he was keeping them to himself yesterday as he busied himself with the nuts and bolts of England's latest defeat.

"We lost a difficult Test," said Fletcher after a lengthy net session. "South Africa used the conditions better than we did and it will be nice to see how we go on a flatter pitch."

He may get his wish at St George's Park, the venue for the next Test in Port Elizabeth. The surface used to have a reputation for being a batsman's paradise, though results in recent Tests there suggest it is a pitch whose bounce becomes increasingly unreliable as the match goes on.

Before that vital encounter, he has 10 days to rethink and remodel some of the faults revealed during the match, as well as resurrect the side's dented morale to pre-Wanderers levels.

"We will have discussions about playing to leave the ball more, especially early on. South Africa did that well, which is why we may have to consider bowling a bit fuller and straighter than we did in the last Test.

"I've got some stats I'm going to look at later. Apparently Allan Donald made the batsman play at 70 per cent of his deliveries while Shaun Pollock's figure was 60 per cent. Our three frontline bowlers were all between the two, which makes the margin of the final result [an innings and 21 runs] even more puzzling."

If Fletcher is happy to pore over figures, his strength as a coach is in analysing the biomechanics of technique, the why something happens, rather than the mere acknowledgement of the event itself. In other words, he gets to the nub of the problem without recourse to buzz words and flip phrases, something not always managed by his predecessor, David Lloyd.

A good example of this came to light when he first met his captain, Nasser Hussain, last summer. After the usual pleasantries, he asked if the batsman ever hit the ball through mid-on. When Hussain admitted it was a rarity, Fletcher told him it was because he stood pigeon-toed at the crease. By doing that (an old habit) Hussain could not get his hips out of the way to release the shot, which is why he tends to favour the off-side when he drives.

By giving up a cushy job as coach of Western Province, Fletcher clearly relishes a challenge, though watching former charges such as Herschelle Gibbs turn the screws on England will surely have caused the odd pang of regret to surface over the past few days.

Like all those sportingly inclined in these parts, he has little time for laziness or sloppiness, and is not averse to inviting the guilty parties into his study for a quiet word. His fielding practices are intense and designed to make players concentrate on their catching and throwing. In Michael Vaughan's case, he still has much work to do.

Fletcher may not know the players quite as well as he would like to yet, but he has made an impression himself. According to those now under him, he is a man who believes strongly in a certain chocolate bar ethic of work, rest and play. So while yesterday was spent practising drills and skills, today will see the players on the golf course at Sun City. All that is except Michael Atherton, who, after the humiliation of his pair, has gone fishing.

"It's important now," said Fletcher, "that the guys stick together, work hard, and have some fun before the next wave of cricket." He is probably right, but just how much fun can you have when you know that Donald and Pollock are resting as well.

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