Bright future brings smile out of Fletcher

Thoughts of what England can yet accomplish inspire coach to dream of a long innings
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The Independent Online

As he prepared last week for his 12th England Test tour, Duncan Fletcher displayed the enthusiasm and appetite which usually accompany the first. This may not be a side of his character on permanent public exhibition, but in expressing relish for the job as England's coach he also dropped the broadest hint that there may be many more to come.

"I have never had long-term plans," he said. "I have always looked six or nine months down the road. If I feel I have got something to offer then I will continue. After last summer, hell, not to have enjoyed that... I am still keen to do it, lots of areas interest me from the point of view of trying to improve individuals' cricket. That's the part I really enjoy about the game."

The general consensus, without Fletcher saying anything, has usually been that he will depart after the 2007 World Cup. He will be approaching 59 then and the quadrennial tournament has begun to provide a natural break in cricketing lives. But the other way of looking at it is that he would be only 63 years old by the time of the World Cup after that.

It is clear that he loves players, and his strength is that he can spot their strengths, and therefore their weaknesses. He rarely becomes animated since that is not his way, but occasionally he cannot stop himself. In talking about England's fast- bowling stocks, for instance, he said: "I am comfortable with it. I was very pleased with what happened in our last one-day game in Pakistan, which was a very good game for us.

"It was along the lines of what happened when we clinically beat Australia at Edgbaston in the Champions' Trophy. The way Jimmy Anderson and Liam Plunkett bowled under huge pressure against some big hitters and held their nerve, you just thought, hold on, there's something there. And there are a couple of others in the background, definitely one other. I am not going to talk about him here but he is definitely quite exciting."

By now, he realised he had probably said too much, but it was instructive that his enthusiasm for the game had provoked him into going so far. Speculation has now begun about who he had in mind. Sajid Mahmood, Stuart Broad and Mark Footitt will always be looked at more carefully from now on.

The Ashes having been recaptured, Fletcher might be forgiven for walking away. What else is there? He bridled. "Winning is important, I don't care who you're playing. It's really easy to lose. We want to beat India in India. Winning the Ashes was a great achievement, but they haven't done everything they want to do in their cricketing careers. I know I haven't as a coach and I know they haven't."

Of course, he not only has to retain his own enthusiasm for the game and the life out of a suitcase that it entails, but also that of his charges.

Age lends a natural distance. But in his seven years as coach some 56 players have represented England, and while a hefty handful might carp that they were given insufficient opportunity, the vast majority recognise his worth. Look at the results.

At present, Fletcher, like his captain, Michael Vaughan, is lord of all he surveys. At the weekend, interviews were being held for the fast-bowling coach to replace Troy Cooley. A panel was selected for the task but there is little doubt that Fletcher will get the man he wants.

Fletcher still attracts some criticism for his stern countenance - which he has famously put down to the Fletcher family jowls - and it is a safe bet that as the India tour wears on he will not always be Jolly Jack Tar.

He always gives the impression, or at least the impression is conveyed on his behalf, that he does not play the media game. This is not quite true. He can be candid, as he was about Vaughan's recent knee surgery, which he must be aware will be interpreted as a scare story. "He's very confident of what he can do, but that injury is always going to be a concern with Michael because it's not the first time it's happened. It might be a recurring injury for the rest of his career, then again it might not."

And he was quite willing to be a trifle mischievous about Australia and the Ashes later in the year. "They're a very, very good side and they've proved it. One area they might have to look at is Warne and McGrath, two huge players of experience. If they lose those two guys, who'll fill the gaps?" It was just a little ploy to plant some doubt by a coach who has been around a long time and may be around for a long time yet.