Birmingham: England captain Alastair Cook isn't surprised that Duncan Fletcher has made an impact on Indian cricket. The 64-year-old Fletcher is a former Zimbabwean international and in 1999, became the first foreigner to coach England. Fletcher is a classic example of a cricketer whose coaching achievements far outshine his career as a cricketer. He never played Test cricket. (India beat England by 5 runs to lift ICC Champions Trophy)
Fletcher was England's coach till 2007. It was a period when England's cricket saw resurgence with away victories in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, West Indies and South Africa. In September 2005, Fletcher became the first England coach to win an Ashes series after 18 years. His pedigree as a coach was established. (Read: Shikhar Dhawan named player of the tournament)
Unlike a Greg Chappell, men like Gary Kirsten, Andy Flower and Fletcher are happy to serve their professional commitments from behind the scenes. Fletcher is aware he is as good as the team and it is best to play a quiet but positive role and let the players hog the limelight. (Also read: God helps those who help themselves, Dhoni told team in team huddle during final)
After the 2011 World Cup, when Kirsten left his job as Indian coach on a winning note, Fletcher took his place. To manage a squad studded with superstars was no easy job. He was happy to be in the shadows of the players and when India lost eight Test matches on-the-trot, Fletcher took the ignominy on his chin and never buckled under pressure. (Read: Dhoni becomes first captain to win all three ICC world championships)
Today, he has won the support of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and of course, the Board of Control for Cricket in India. The BCCI has given the Zimbabwean an extension till September 2014 and looking at India's current ODI form, Fletcher's job till the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand looks guaranteed.
During the Champions Trophy, Dhoni acknowledged Fletcher's role in the development of a new squad bubbling with talent but perhaps a bit low on wisdom. With only three members of the 2011 World Cup team surviving in the current ODI squad, Dhoni sees a bigger role for Fletcher. "It's his job to handle the development of the young players. He is very good at technique and I don't have to worry about all that," said Dhoni
The person who seems to be profiting the most from Fletcher's influence has been Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. It is learnt that it was Fletcher's idea to have Sharma open the batting with Dhawan ahead of a Murli Vijay. It has turned out to be a very successful experiment.
Fletcher's argument that Sharma's natural instinct to play the new and rising ball well augurs well for Team India. The next 12 months that India will be on the road, the batsmen will encounter seaming and bouncy tracks in South Africa and Down Under. So, it was important to start the 'grooming' exercise right here in English conditions.
A good start is only half the job done. The partnership with Dhawan has seen India making 100-plus starts against quality attacks in the Champions Trophy, but Sharma's inability to convert at least two fifties into hundreds has not gone down well with critics. Never shy to cut or pull, Sharma can be all timing and elegance but he has often paid for indiscretion. Fletcher would have noted these glitches.
Former Indian opener and Test great Sunil Gavaskar explains Sharma's inconsistency, saying: "I think it has got a lot to do with temperament. He is a player with a range of shots and sometimes it is better to be limited in your ability. But when you have the array of strokes that Rohit Sharma has then nothing is a good ball for you and that is where the shot selection can go wrong and that's what has been happening to him."
Gavaskar feels captaincy in the Indian Premier League has done the 26-year-old Sharma a world of good. "Captaincy has done wonders to him. He has suddenly realized that as captain he has got to deliver and now that he is a player in the Indian team, he knows what a captain wants of him. This has made him a little more careful. He is playing fewer strokes in the air and that is why he is scoring 50s and 60s." But Gavaskar feels 50s and 60s will not establish Sharma in the Indian team.
The original Little Master feels Rohit Sharma should learn from Kohli if he wants to play for India on a long-term basis. Gavaskar pointed out how Kohli has improved his attitude to become a more responsible cricketer.
"When Kohli started off, he thought the world belonged to him and then came down a notch or two and that is where he learnt his lesson. The game is always bigger than anybody else and that realization made him understand that to be part of the history of the game, he has to be selective on what he did on and off the field. Plus hard work and his thought process has made Kohli successful. Rohit Sharma needs to take a leaf out of that," Gavaskar said.
Sharma will be closely monitored and since he has Fletcher's backing, he will be given adequate rope, too. The core of India's World Cup 2015 batting perhaps revolves around this Champions Trophy squad. Can Sharma prove to be a war horse for a long race? It's going to be a question of attitude and application because the world doesn't belong to him alone.