Fletcher has to be made accountable for failures

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The Independent Online

There was a poignant scene here on Friday evening when the South Africans were putting England's bowlers to the sword. David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, and Duncan Fletcher, the team's coach, were perched, somewhat precariously, it seemed, on the England dressing-room balcony. Both will have had much to ponder.

They are not, one hears, the closest of friends, there was not much eye contact and maybe the conversation was a trifle strained as they racked their brains about what they should do next. Fletcher is obviously a man of strong, not to say autocratic opinions. He may be feeling a little bit more on his own having just lost the captain with whom he had formed such a close bond.

He should have been pretty vulnerable when he surveyed the wreckage of England's cricket on the field in front of him. Nasser Hussain's tearful resignation at the end of the first Test at Edgbaston became the immediate news thereafter and conveniently shunted embarrassing postmortems to the side. Now there is no escape and the bleak question that should have been at the front of both men's minds is: "Where have we gone wrong?"

To say that England were being comprehensively outplayed by South Africa for the second Test in a row is an understatement. Fletcher, who came to the England job with an impressive reputation, has not delivered the goods. In the last few months he has presided over a massive defeat by Australia, an ignominious exit from the World Cup and now complete meltdown against South Africa.

Graveney will doubtless soon be telling us that massive changes are not the answer. That's fine, but how do he and Fletcher intend to go about the business of trying to teach the players under their control a little about the basic principles of the game? The South Africa attack is not the lethal mix that Australia put on the field and yet last Thursday it was only an unlikely last-wicket stand of 55 that took England as far as 173.

As if this was not hard enough to swallow, the bowlers then got it as badly wrong as they had done on the first day at Edgbaston, when South Africa scored 398 for 1. It was as though they had never heard of the importance of length and line and the necessity of trying to frustrate and wear down the opposing batsmen.

Fletcher does not appear to be the sort of man to whom it would occur to think that maybe he has got it all wrong after all. He is not the greatest communicator with the outside world. He is at his happiest at fielding practice or counselling in the nets.

He came to England's aid after a successful time coaching Glamorgan. He is apparently regarded as a genius when it comes to sorting out batting techniques. Anyone who was here last Thursday could have been forgiven for regarding this as the joke of the decade. When it comes to the bowling he is more ingenuous. Yet he has done his best to stop England's bowling coaches having even a place round the dressing-room table at Test match time.

The present bowling coach is the Australian Troy Cooley, a solid performer for Tasmania, but hardly a household name. Fletcher has decided that he should not be part of the support team in the dressing-room during Tests. Fletcher inherited the former England seam bowler, Bob Cottam, as his bowling coach but his services were soon dispensed with - financial necessity was the reason given.

Two years later, another former England fast bowler, Graham Dilley, received the nod. He was allowed to contribute in the two days before home Tests, but was given the elbow when the matches began.

His influence appears to have kept Phil Tufnell, a far better left-arm spinner than Ashley Giles, out of the England dressing-room. It is highly probable that his is the controlling hand in the refusal to bring back Graham Thorpe, who must surely now be brought to the rescue.

Fletcher has outlived his usefulness and may even be hindering the advance of England's cricket. His time has come. What has happened at Edgbaston and Lord's is ample testimony to that.


* Graeme Smith's haul of 621 runs in his last three Test innings (277, 85, 259) is the second highest aggregate for three consecutive innings, behind Sir Don Bradman's 625 for Australia against England in 1934 (304, 244, 77); it also equals the record for a South African in a series against England, set by Dudley Nourse in the five-Test rubber in 1947.

* Smith's 621 runs mean he needs a further 354 from the remaining three Tests to pass Bradman's all-time record series aggregate of 974, which he made against England in the 1930 Ashes.

* South Africa's 682 for 6 dec is their highest Test score, and the second highest total at Lord's after Australia's 729 for 6 in 1930.

* Smith's 259 is the highest score by an overseas batsman in a Test match at Lord's, and the second highest by any player at Lord's after Graham Gooch's 333 against India in 1990.

* Smith's 259 made him the fourth batsman to score double hundreds in successive Tests after Bradman, Wally Hammond (England) and Vinod Kambli (India).

* At Lord's Smith became the fastest South African to pass 1,000 runs in Tests. He took 17 innings, eclipsing Eddie Barlow who took 21 innings.

* Smith now shares with his team-mate Gary Kirsten the South African record for the number of Test double hundreds, 3. Smith scored his in 12 Tests while Kirsten recorded his third double hundred in his 74th match.

* Makhaya Ntini became the first South African bowler to take 10 wickets or more in a Test at Lord's.

* The South African captain has so far spent 20 hours and 15 minutes at the crease during the series, while England's first three completed innings amounted to 15 hours and 3 minutes in total.