In the latest instance of the excellent Cricket Sadist Hour podcast, the two most important voices covering Aussie cricket today vent freely about the sudden and yet understandable move to replace the coach of Australia’s cricket team mere days before the Ashes. The whole conversation is a must-listen and details very well how varied the opinion of and value seen in coaches in international cricket are. But two moments in the episode stand out to me. At the 30 minute mark, Gideon Haigh talks about how Darren Lehmann has a marginally better chance at reaching the ears and minds of young cricketers as he had once played the game. Two minutes later, he also talks about how team culture in sport cannot be forced into existence by layers and layers of management but is something that is created, built and maintained organically.
No one truly knows how much a coach can do or even should do. It is a job description with few specifics. It is important enough that the person selected is among the best paid in the country. It is also so trivial that the person can be replaced 10 days ahead of his most significant challenge yet.
In the aftermath of the thrilling final last Sunday, tweets, reports, podcasts and Google Hangouts surfaced praising the Indian cricketers, selectors and even the fans for their role in the memorable triumph. I scanned thru 10 different pieces including mine only to find no mention of the Indian coach – Duncan Fletcher anywhere. While the sport today is covered more aggressively, expansively and thoroughly than any time in the past, a definitive profile, interview or analysis of the man who coaches cricket’s most important team are missing. Most comments about Fletcher boil down to some version of “He is good with youngsters” which does not tell me more than that he is someone who yells.
While the very manifestation of selection bias, the situations reveal an interesting contrast. Absolutely no one seems to know what Duncan Fletcher does with this Indian team. Is he a good motivator? Is he responsible for tweaking batsmen’s techniques? Does he bring up the 1983 World cup even more often than the chairman of the Indian selection committee does? No one outside the team seems to have a handle on what exactly Duncan Fletcher does for the team? In a weird turn of events his name was not even mentioned by Dhoni or Jadeja in the post-game ceremony.
Every fan and his/her dog wanted to be rid of Fletcher by the time India wrapped up their second disastrous 0-4 series away from home in early 2012. Since then India have had mostly encouraging results outside of a 1-2 home series loss to the English. While aging greying veterans have been replaced with young blood what else has changed? Has Fletcher tried different techniques or has he just done what he always used to but better?
I find the lack of attention commanded by Duncan Fletcher fascinating. While his most recent predecessors were introverts too, they did speak to the media more often. I cannot remember the last time Duncan Fletcher spoke post-game or gave an interview to a media member. Surely he’d want to say things to the media and fans? He was way more outspoken when he coached England and BCCI diktats aside he’s got to be able to get his message out, right?
Without change in personnel or the bubonic plague hitting the English top order, Australia surely know they have a slender chance of winning the Ashes this year. And yet the cricket board chose to replace the coach with someone who was a player in the IPL not that long ago. Darren Lehmann is only 3 years older than Sachin Tendulkar and is being entrusted the responsibility of guiding the worst Australian team in living memory to an Ashes triumph. His bosses believe he adds value to this goal even if brought on in the 11 and half’th hour. There is no greater sign of faith in the job of a coach than what has just been done to Darren Lehmann.
A nation of fans on the other hand do not even acknowledge or seem to understand the existence of their coach and the value he adds to the team. Watching Lehmann guide, motivate and “Australian” his side to get under the skin of the English is going to be fun and educational. In the meantime I hope Duncan Fletcher is covered, interviewed and analyzed. As the bearer of one of the most visible and pivotal roles in sport, precious little is known about him. Someday this team he coaches will lose its way or lose interest in him. He will then be replaced by someone who probably played against and alongside Dhoni. I would like to have known more about Duncan by then.
For now it certainly does look like everyone is just saying – Duncan, who?