Fletcher's stony silence speaks volumes about India's decline

Coach steers clear of media and cannot persuade team to care enough about Tests

Nagpur

Whatever happens now, it may be too late for serious Test cricket in India. The result of the fourth Test for the home side, whether a last-gasp, face-saving win to escape with a series draw or, more fearfully, another cataclysmic defeat, will not disguise profound defects in the system and the approach.

Whether anybody cares enough to try to ensure that these failings are gradually eradicated is a question without an answer, a concern of its own. None of this would diminish an England win since they are playing a side still accustomed to more or less perpetual victory at home.

The Indian media, shocked by two successive defeats, is out for blood, which is a short-term response. As M S Dhoni, a captain perhaps in his final match, said today, everyone has an opinion about cricket but nobody comes up with a solution

"Everyone is talking about this phase in Indian cricket where the big players would move on and the pressure would come on the youngsters," he said. "I think everyone expected this kind of a patch. You have to be consistent, you have to keep faith in the players who have done a lot for Indian cricket over the years."

Well he would say that, wouldn't he? Dhoni takes everything in his stride, conveying the glorious impression that he would be the last man standing in an earthquake. Only last year he hit the winning six in the World Cup final, as if he devised the shot for the moment, and was a national hero.

Now he is firmly in the sights of the media at least, having presided over eight successive Test defeats away, in England and then Australia, and now two in succession at home. But the vultures are also hovering round a man ineradicably linked with English cricket, Duncan Fletcher, the coach who brought back the Ashes after 16 long years (and soon after lost them, but it's the first bit that counts).

It is difficult to see that Fletcher's lucrative two-year contract with India will be extended beyond next April, difficult to see that he would want it. Fletcher can be blamed for little of the general malaise which has afflicted India's Test team but his reputation as a coach has declined continually since he took over here.

The evidence of this series suggests he has done nothing to improve India as a team. The batsmen – the coaching of whom is supposed to be his special skill – have been by and large moderate, forgetting completely that Tests demand a different skill and mindset from one-day cricket.

Fletcher cannot do the batting for them, but if they are no longer acting on his advice and suggestions then it is pertinent to ask why not. It was to Dhoni's credit that he sprang to Fletcher's defence immediately after the defeat in the third Test in Kolkata. Don't blame the coach was his fundamental credo, blame the players.

In one regard, however, Fletcher can be easily criticised. India's fielding and their general fitness have been a joke. They have been slow, cumbersome and undisciplined.

In general, it is said that India's coach has almost no power, influence or authority, all of which resides with Dhoni. But if Fletcher cannot persuade his team that it is their duty to turn up fit (as well as fit for purpose) then he might not be able to persuade them of much else. It may be that he came here with a long-term plan for Indian cricket, recognising that they needed a calm, mature voice of authority as a generation of world-class, iconic players quit.

If so, he has yet to reveal it. Part of Fletcher's deal is he does not speak publicly to the media. Nor, by the way, does he speak to them in private. This is breathtaking, considering that it is in the great scheme of things only a game, but a game that depends for its existence entirely on public support.

Fletcher has uttered not a peep in either defeat or victory. He loathed the bulk of the English press corps when he was England coach, a stance usually greeted with great amusement by the objects of his scorn, and has clearly not softened his approach.

There will be two enduring images of Fletcher in this series. One is his conducting of constant slip-catching practices by edging the ball to fielders, which seems to have done little for their skill on the field. He used to be a master of the training nick; at 64 he is less so now.

The other is of his eyeballing confrontation with the chairman of selectors, Sandeep Patil, on the last morning of the Test in Kolkata. Fingers were wagged. Fletcher has never had much time for selectors or, it seems, for anybody who might be about to suggest that he is at fault. But that matters not, because he does not either have to advocate or defend his methods, simply do his job, if he can, and take his money.

India is in thrall to limited-overs cricket. Defeat to England would not hurt enough. But victory in the final Test might not mean enough either. Twin impostors they may be but in India of all places it should not be like that.

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