Fletcher all smiles (sort of) as he plots downfall of team he took to heights

New India coach in jovial but mischievious mood as he talks up Swann but highlights Strauss's weakness

He was charming, engaged and informative. And was that a hint of roguish mischief playing around his lips? Never was he tetchy and if he did not come in slapping backs, that was fine by everybody.

Duncan Fletcher, one of the world's great cricket coaches, renewed his acquaintance with England yesterday. He was in charge of the national team for more than six years until 2007, he made them a team fit for the 21st century, he guided them to a legendary Ashes win.

It was to end in tears on all sides following, in rapid succession, the cataclysmic surrender of the urn that took so long to regain and a wretched World Cup campaign. But after a gap of four years, Fletcher has returned to the role of full-time international coach.

To general astonishment, at the age of 63, he was appointed two months ago to lead India. In that capacity he will spend the next two months plotting the downfall of the team he once took to the heights. This is perhaps his greatest challenge. With England he had the players to coach and the media to tolerate (he did the former sterlingly for much of the time, barely saw the need to do the latter). But now he has to try to ensure the best team in the world stay there, while being scrutinised by millions upon millions of cricket-crazy supporters who view the team as part of the family.

When he bowled up at Taunton yesterday for the tour curtain-raiser, the famous jowls jowlier then ever, he was happy to concede that he assumed it was all over for him at the highest level. "To be honest I think I did," he said. "It's strange being back in this role. When I left England I didn't think I'd be back involved in this way. But after doing some consultancy for South Africa, New Zealand and Hampshire I got the bug again. Then this opportunity came up and it was one I couldn't turn down. It does seem a bit strange to be back here, but I've enjoyed working with India. We had a good tour in West Indies and this will be an exciting series to be involved in."

Fletcher's credentials as a technical coach have never been in doubt. He could spot a glitch in a batting method at 500 paces, probably with his back to the action. He is not quite as clinical about bowling but he is no slouch, and he is the best edger of practice slip catches in the business.

But, boy, could he grumble about those who did not quite see the world through his pair of sunglasses. There was some apprehension about how he might approach his inaugural tour press briefing (there may not be many more). He shared a platform with the Indian captain, MS Dhoni, who was his usual bland, non-committal self. Dhoni clearly saves it all for the team.

There are two huge issues for Fletcher. The first is to work with the team at hand – a legend like Sachin Tendulkar, for a start, with others such as Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman not far behind. But then they are nearer the end than the beginning, so Fletcher may have to bring through the next generation.

He thinks he can do both.

"It happened in the West Indies where I did a bit of work with Rahul," he said. "Every batsman needs help at times, look at the top golfers who lose their game and someone has to be there to help identify the reason. I also work with the young players to pass on knowledge and make sure they get experience as quickly as possible." As India went through their first full net session in the Taunton sunshine, Fletcher spent a long time watching Tendulkar bat. He will have spotted something on which the little master can improve. If anything, he was mildly reluctant to talk about England.

As Fletcher rightly pointed out, the team had changed fairly considerably over the last few years. But he was generous in his assessment of both Andrew Strauss, the captain who he overlooked in favour of Andrew Flintoff for the humiliation that turned out to be the 2006-07 Ashes, and of Andy Flower, his fellow Zimbabwean ("that makes me proud") and successor but one as England coach. "They've got England back on track and it's ideal that Andy has struck up a good relationship with Strauss."

Fletcher was always big on the coach-captain relationship. It was why he felt blessed to have got on so well with Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan, both of whom would walk over hot coals to have a batting session with him but who occasionally despaired of his stubbornness. There was never the same chemistry with Flintoff, whose behaviour rattled him. Perhaps it is too early to tell how Fletcher and Dhoni will rub along, though Fletcher occasionally glanced at the captain yesterday with something approaching admiration.

During his time in charge, it was not only the press, who are perfectly capable of looking after themselves, that Fletcher sometimes annoyed. He would swiftly jettison those players who did not meet his demands. One of the most famous examples was Graeme Swann, now the number one spin bowler in the world.

"I think Swann has done really, really well," he said. "Sometimes, you've got to get out of your comfort zone and realise there is a big world out there and develop your game and that is what Swann has done. It is everything about him, he just appreciates what he's required to do on and off the field in the international arena, and you can see the way he holds himself, he is a very good cricketer now."

The mischief arrived when he talked of Strauss, his friend as well as his former opening bat. It has already been well chronicled that Strauss has his difficulties with left-arm pace and that Zaheer Khan is lying in wait. "From our point of view we have to be careful because there are other batsmen in that side we need to look at," said Fletcher. "The problem really lies with Straussy. If he feels he has a problem it's more a concern for him than us." Carefully sowing the seeds of doubt, you see. It will not all be hunky dory like yesterday, but it will be fun to see those Fletcher jowls in action again.

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker