'I still have the players' confidence and respect' insists Fletcher

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The Independent Online

English cricket appears set to undergo more reviews than the National Health Service following the team's crushing loss to Australia in the Ashes. Within hours of their defeat in Perth an England and Wales Cricket Board official suggested that Duncan Fletcher's position as coach was to be looked at. And now, 36 hours after England's defeat, David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, wants the selection process on tour to be discussed.

The current position is unacceptable. Graveney, Fletcher and Geoff Miller select a touring squad yet once it departs Fletcher, along with the captain, take control.

Graham Gooch, the former England captain, tour manager and selector, agrees with Graveney. "I think it is an over-reaction to say Fletcher should go as coach," said Gooch. "He is still the right man for England to go forward on the coaching front.

"But I think a lot of questions need to be asked about who is accountable for the selection policies on tour. In the summer the selection panel changed the format of the side with Chris Read and Monty Panesar playing - yet as soon as they went on tour they ditched that.

"There is obviously conflict there. I think Duncan Fletcher is all-powerful when it comes to who picks the side and maybe that needs to be reviewed. I am not a believer in one man being all powerful and coaching the players as well."

Fletcher, along with Andrew Flintoff, found an unexpected supporter in Ricky Ponting. "There are 11 guys in the team, or the 13 guys in the squad, and it is very harsh just to blame the coach and captain," the Australian captain said. "I know, especially after last year, what it is like as a leader, as a captain of a side, that when you lose a lot of the flak will come back on you. [England] haven't played anywhere near as well as they would have liked but in saying that I think we haven't given them the opportunity to play as well as they would have liked."

If Fletcher were to occasionally show a touch of contrition, though, one feels that his relationship with the public would be far warmer than it currently is. Fletcher has been good for English cricket, of that there can be no doubt, but it is hard to feel affection towards a man who never admits that he has made a mistake. Admitting one's shortcomings should be looked on as a sign of strength not weakness.

The 58-year-old Zimbabwean was at it again yesterday as the wreckage of the Ashes campaign was sifted through. Fletcher reluctantly accepted that everyone associated with the team should take blame for Australia's 3-0 lead in the series, but only if blame needed to be apportioned.

Fletcher felt that preparations were adequate and did not believe that Panesar should have played in the opening two Tests.

"Selection is the hardest part of cricket," said Fletcher. "We had difficult decisions to make. We take the conditions at the ground, how the player is playing in the nets, how they play in warm-up matches and the balance of the side into consideration before we pick a team.

"Beforehand people say it is a difficult and afterwards they say it was a simple decision. We are happy with the teams we selected for the series."

England's defeat in Australia has placed Fletcher under enormous pressure. In some quarters his head is being called for. Others believe he should go after the 2007 World Cup, which finishes at the end of April.

But Fletcher seems in no mood to give up the job he has held for seven years. "There is no doubt that I still have something to offer this team," he claimed. "I speak to the players and I still have their confidence. They still come to me on numerous occasions about tactics and I've still got their respect, which is important.

"When I won the Ashes I reviewed my position and every time six months go by I do the same. I will continue that procedure until either I feel it's time to go or the England and Wales Cricket Board speak to me and ask me where we are going."

* Australia have named an unchanged 12-man squad for the fourth Test against England in Melbourne starting on Boxing Day.

Australia Squad for fourth Test: R T Ponting (capt), J L Langer, M L Hayden, M E Hussey, A C Gilchrist (wkt), A Symonds, S K Warne, S R Clark, B Lee, G D McGrath, M J Clarke, M Johnson.