While Wright was the friendliest and Kirsten the most popular, Fletcher is quietly demonstrative
Legendary gymnast Olga Korbut, the ‘Sparrow from Minsk’ who won four gold medals at the Munich Olympics in 1972, feels “this ability to conquer oneself is no doubt the most precious of all things sports bestows on us.”
Very true! Ask an athlete, playing any sport, how it feels to be out there, all alone in a theatre of competition where the very best survives. Cricket, like all sport, is competitive and demands, especially in India, supreme commitment and fitness levels.
From the times when a cricketer would accompany the team as the manager, later as cricket coach, to present times when the support staff headed by the chief coach guides the team, Indian cricket has come a long way. In the past 13 years, four non-Indians — John Wright, Greg Chappell, Gary Kirsten and Duncan Fletcher — have lent the professional element.
Wright, India’s first foreign coach, was clear about his relationship with skipper Sourav Ganguly. “It was obviously going to be critical. I thought I could help him tactically, but I began with the basics, talked about setting an example,” he wrote in Indian Summers.
Wright was the friendliest of the foreign coaches, pleasant most days but grumpy in the mornings. Overall, he was a nice bloke, as most players acknowledged.
“He was the first one to bring organised structure to our practice sessions; his thinking and approach to the game were fresh. He brought new ideas and perspective to out cricket. He had amazing confidence, commitment and was extremely professional. That’s why we have him with Mumbai Indians,” said former India captain Anil Kumble.
The impact that Wright made was huge. An old-timer, he was a man of few words and took over the team when the game was witnessing changes.
Chappell not so appealing
Wright’s successor Chappell had a bitter and torrid time with Indian cricket. If Wright relegated himself to the backseat and conceded ground to Ganguly to speak at team meetings, Chappell chose to dominate. He had that stature, too, but his man-management skills lacked tact. It even led to an unprecedented confrontation with the seniors, notably Sachin Tendulkar.
Chappell, one of Australia’s finest batsmen, had his own way. He would not tolerate mediocrity and had an amazing vision for the future. Sadly, his tenure was marred by his running battles with Ganguly. A misunderstood coach, Chappell paid the price despite his philosophy that a coach “should work behind the scenes as an educator, nurturer and mentor.”
Kirsten was the most popular. His man-management was his strong point. He would devote attention to individuals and spoke his mind at team meetings. His job was to convey the message to skipper M.S. Dhoni — a compulsive introvert — the management and selectors. Kirsten also enjoyed a certain comfort-level with the seniors since he had played against them.
The South African was an apt catalyst as Indian cricket emerged from the rough times of Chappell. He gave the players their space but never hesitated in giving a player a lashing if he found hints of complacency.
“He was a very hard-working coach, always giving fielding lessons, throw-downs to the batsmen. He was fantastic,” remembered seamer Ashish Nehra.
Fletcher, the invisible coach of the Indian cricket team, is the silent force behind the scenes. His retention for a year, despite the embarrassing defeats in England and Australia, the setbacks at home against England, followed by the loss of the ODI series to Pakistan, may have caused displeasure among many formers players. But team members significantly prefer the Zimbabwean, rated one of the most astute students of the game.
Players can approach Fletcher. His technical inputs — some minor, some major — have helped many in the team improve their game. The batsmen love his observations. Fletcher is quietly demonstrative and his deep knowledge of the game has endeared him to the players.
The Board, one gathers, had no option but to continue with Fletcher because he understands the team the best at the moment. He is expected to galvanise the team into a gritty, performing unit.