Will it be another fiery summer of cricket?
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Duncan Fletcher, the hard-nosed, cranky and obdurate Zimbabwean, has stepped down from his prestigious and lucrative job as England’s cricket coach.
He had a year to run on his contract. But he jumped before he was pushed. The euphoria of the Ashes victory two years ago has now become a historical footnote.
The story that identifies him now is the rather plaintive account of Michael Vaughan asking for some batting advice from Geoff Boycott and then begging the former blocker to make sure Fletcher didn’t hear about it.
Vaughan, and his backers like Boycott, a batsman who clung to the batting crease with all the energy of a barnacle and who is surely the last man in the world you’d seek out for advice on the one-day game, are now blaming Fletcher for England’s dismal performances at the Cricket World Cup. This rather neatly avoids Vaughan’s own part in England’s fall from Ashes grace. And Fletcher’s part in the Ashes triumph.
There are two complaints about Vaughan: first, he never allowed Andrew Flintoff to establish himself as England’s captain after he was injured. There was Vaughan in the England dressing room during the last Ashes series in Australia acting as a sort of ghost at Banquo’s (Flintoff’s) wedding. Flintoff was a poor captain, anyway. The sight of Vaughan hovering around the team all the time, unwilling to let go, must have been unnerving, nevertheless. Second, Vaughan’s batting was totally inadequate. He batted too slowly (in the Boycott manner): however, he did not compensate to some extent for the snail-like batting rate by scoring a huge volume of runs (something that Boycott did, in fact, do).
So where does Fletcher’s resignation fit into all of this?
Ian Chappell is adamant that coaches are a waste of time at the international level. Senior players, especially the captain, are there, according to Chappell, to give what advice is necessary. Under this sort of regime, the coach is relegated to the manager, the general dogs-body who makes sure that the gear arrives on time and that the players don’t miss their flights.
Against this is the Bobby Simpson view that coaches are critical to the success of individual players and, especially, to teams. It was Simpson who breathed life into the Australian cricket team in the 1980s when things fell away with the Packer revolt and rebel tours. Simpson revolutionised cricket coaching by using the techniques of the football codes to get players fit, aerobically and mentally. He devised interesting new tactics and field placings which obedient captains put into operation.
Fletcher prided himself on being a Simpson type of coach, hands-on and running everything the team did, except when players were on the the field. Accordingly, he accepted the plaudits when England re-gained the Ashes. And now he seems to have accepted the brickbats over England’s dismal World Cup tournament. Fletcher’s tough and uncompromising approach to the way his teams played played an important part in the Ashes triumph. But in the end the players got tired of the dourness, tired of sullenness when things weren’t going well and tired of mind games being played on them.
Coaches, like politicians, can stay too long in the job. And the case of Duncan Fletcher is a good example of this truth. John Buchanan’s decision to leave after the Cricket World Cup tournament looks to be about as exquisite a piece of timing as a Ponting six over long-on.