Exit for the man from another era

Martin Johnson asseses the legacy left by Keith Fletcher at the end of his career as England's cricket manager
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The Independent Online
When Keith Fletcher was paraded before the media after being appointed to succeed Micky Stewart as England team manager in May 1992, the first question he was asked at the press conference did not exactly beat around the bush. "Are you mad?"

"Er, no, I don't think so," came the response, although if Fletcher was now asked the same question in hindsight, the answer might be a little different.

It took the Test and County Cricket Board four months to persuade Fletcher to leave his beloved Essex, and so convinced were they that Fletcher was the only man for the job, no-one else's name (not even that of the current chairman, Ray Illingworth) was considered.

Fletcher's credentials had been established during the previous 13-year spell with Essex, in which time they had won six County Championships, five one-day trophies, and were a side that was invariably prepared to gamble in order to win matches. He was known as one of the shrewdest cricketing brains in England, and it is difficult to recall a single dissenting voice about his appointment.

However, just as it was in his playing days, Fletcher was unable to make the transition from success with his county to success with his country. It took him 20 Tests to make his first century, and he never batted for England with the same panache as he did for Essex. He scored his runs slowly, and was stripped of the England captaincy in 1982 because of his diffident leadership on the winter tour to India.

The first nail in his coffin as England's team manager again arose from a tour to India, his first overseas mission in the new job, in 1992-93. With a well-merited reputation as a canny strategist, Fletcher went to South Africa for a first-hand look at India before the tour, and concluded (publicly) that the leg spinner, Anil Kumble, was not much of a bowler. Kumble destroyed England, and India won all three Test matches.

Ironically, Fletcher was right. Kumble was not much of a bowler, but what he had failed to consider was that England did not have much of a team. As England's Test performances began to dip even more alarmingly than they did under Stewart, Fletcher's slightly careworn and apologetic manner became even more accentuated.

However, it was the appointment of Illingworth in the winter of 1993- 94 which first gave rise to speculation that Fletcher might not make it to the end of his five-year contract. Illingworth's character is such that he is not inclined to delegate, or share a headline, and it was not so much a case of the two jobs becoming blurred, as Illingworth's high profile causing people to wonder just what it was that Fletcher was supposed to be doing.

Illingworth himself was asked this at a sportswriters' lunch in London at a time when last winter's Ashes tour was beginning to come off the rails. Far from defending Fletcher, Illingworth complained that he was "amazed" how the team had drifted since the end of the summer (i.e. "without me") and when further asked whether he felt Fletcher was doing a good job, he replied: "Pass."

Fletcher, who was one of the players who chaired Illingworth from the field after the Ashes tour of Australia in 1971-72, presumably thought that with friends like Illingworth, he was not really in need of enemies. He may also have been wondering yesterday on one of Illingworth's quotes when he was appointed chairman: "The buck stops with me."

During England's sorrier performances in Australia, Fletcher, unlike his predecessor Stewart, was rarely slow in fronting up to the side's shortcomings. "Total cwap" was how he referred to two consecutive defeats against the Australian Academy lads, and he was not too good at disguising his lack of confidence in his team. Shortly before England produced their amazing last-day performance in Adelaide, Fletcher said at a press conference that he would be happy with an honourable draw.

Fletcher, for all his shrewdness, was ultimately too introverted for the modern era, which has long since moved on from the ethos of "play the game and pass the Marmite sandwiches."

The reason England are such a pathetic Test team most of the time is not because they do not have talent, but because, when the chips are down, they have all the steel fibre of a marshmallow.

For all his tactical acumen, Fletcher was unable to provide his players with the necessary backbone for modern-day Test cricket, partly because he was unable to get on to their wavelength off the field. He scarcely ever dined with players.

When he recovers from his initial disappointment, this essentially nice man will probably consider himself well rid of the job. Looking back, the answer to his original question was probably "yes."

ENGLAND'S TEST RECORD

UNDER KEITH FLETCHER

1993

v India 1st Test (Calcutta) lost by 8 wkts

v India 2nd Test (Madras) lost by innings and 22 runs

v India 3rd Test (Bombay) lost by innings and 15 runs

v Sri Lanka 1st Test (Colombo) lost by 5 wkts

v Australia 1st Test (Old Trafford) lost by 179 runs

v Australia 2nd Test (Lord's) lost by innings and 62 runs

v Australia 3rd Test (Trent Bridge) drew

v Australia 4th Test (Headingley) lost by inns and 148 runs

v Australia 5th Test (Edgbaston) lost by 8 wkts

v Australia 6th Test (The Oval) won by 161 runs

1994

v West Indies 1st Test (Kingston) lost by 8 wkts

v WI 2nd Test (Georgetown) lost by innings and 44 runs

v WI 3rd Test (Port of Spain) lost by 147 runs

v WI 4th Test (Bridgetown) won by 208 runs

v WI 5th Test (St John's) drew

v New Zealand 1st Test (Trent Bridge) won by inn/90 runs

v New Zealand 2nd Test (Lord's) drew

v New Zealand 3rd Test (Old Trafford) drew

v South Africa 1st Test (Lord's) lost by 356 runs

v South Africa 2nd Test (Headingley) drew

v South Africa 3rd Test (The Oval) won by 8 wkts

v Australia 1st Test (Brisbane) lost by 184 runs

v Australia 2nd Test (Melbourne) lost by 295 runs

1995

v Australia 3rd Test (Sydney) drew

v Australia 4th Test (Adelaide) won by 106 runs

v Australia 5th Test (Perth) lost by 329 runs

Played 26 Won 5 Drawn 6 Lost 15

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