Fletcher dropped into trouble by new side's floundering in the field


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The Independent Online

There was no obvious change in Duncan Fletcher's expression, not even when Jonathan Trott survived a second catchable edge. But then, old poker face never did give much away in public, even when he was guiding England towards an Ashes triumph. Behind those dark glasses though, the mind must have been racing.

In many ways, Fletcher has landed himself in a no-win situation by taking on the job of India's chief coach (well, no-win if you discount an estimated annual salary of £800,000). His new team were World Cup winners and top of the Test table before he succeeded Gary Kirsten a couple of months ago, so there is no room for improvement on those counts.

But while the only way for India – be it this summer or sometime in the future – is down, Fletcher would not have taken the post without thinking he could make at least some of their players better cricketers. And roughly half a day of this series was more than enough to show everyone where he can begin.

In fact, Fletcher has started already by appointing Trevor Penney as India's fielding coach – the same Trevor Penney who was put to work on England during the 2005 Ashes series and who launched the process which has paid handsome dividends over the last year or so.

The trouble is, of course, no one can turn a poor fielding outfit into a crack catching, diving and throwing unit overnight. And if these two teams are as closely matched in terms of batting and bowling as everyone seems to think, the difference between winning and losing could come down to chances held and runs saved.

Any side can have a poor day in the field. Indeed, England fell below the sky-high standards they set themselves in Australia on two or three occasions during the three Tests against Sri Lanka earlier this summer. But India did look a long way short of impressive yesterday when dropping two catches, missing a clear run-out chance and often looking pedestrian over the turf.

There are quite a few old bones in this touring team with Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman producing a combined age of 112. Whether the march of time had anything to do with Dravid – who has been a mighty fine slip catcher for most of his career – failing to snap up a low chance snicked to him by Trott is uncertain, but England will hope to make India's three veterans do plenty of running in the field if and when the sun shines bright again.

Dravid could not be blamed for failing to snap up the second catch edged his way by Trott because on that occasion wicketkeeper MS Dhoni put him off by starting to go for the catch and then, inexplicably, stopping.

But it was not even those two wasted opportunities that would have particularly concerned Fletcher. More worrying, India's ground fielding looked sloppy. Zaheer Khan was labouring across the green, green grass of Lord's even before he trudged back to the Pavilion for treatment on a hamstring injury and Ishant Sharma, one of the young bucks at 22, missed the stumps with a throw from mid-on when Andrew Strauss was two yards from safety.

Penney, who was a wonderful fielder for Warwickshire, will do all he can to smarten up India's act. But it took his England opposite number, Richard Halsall, a couple of years – and dozens upon dozens of gruelling sessions – to bring about a level of improvement that astounded Australia during the winter.

England really have come a long way in the fielding stakes. How far? Well, no doubt Fletcher can remember a Test at Lord's, five years ago, when his side dropped a total of nine catches against Sri Lanka. India will do badly to match that performance but they have already done poorly enough to undermine Dhoni's decision to bowl first.