The importance of the right coach cannot be underestimated when one looks at a successful cricket team. India became professional under John Wright. While Greg Chappell brought in many changes, thanks to the infighting at the top, India crashed out in the first round of the 2007 ODI World Cup.
And our golden age was under Gary Kirsten while a dark age under Duncan Fletcher.
The same has been the case with many other teams all over the world. The decline of the Australian team did not start when legendary captain Steve Waugh stepped down, but it did so when coach John Buchanan called it a day.
When the first time South Africa became Test No. 1 in the ICC rankings, they squandered it. But when they reached that pinnacle for the second time, they consolidated their position. It was no co-incidence that Kirsten was there to stabilize things.
While our overseas 0-8 Test record and our recent 1-2 loss to England on home soil has been under the scanner a lot, it is also worth noting that the individual performances of almost every Indian player bloomed under Kirsten and wilted under Fletcher.
Take a look at the Test batting averages of some of India’s top batsmen under Kirsten…
Sachin Tendulkar (63.3), VVS Laxman (57.6), Virender Sehwag (58.1), Gautam Gambhir (60.5) and MS Dhoni (46.3).
And the same under Fletcher…
Tendulkar (31.8), Laxman (36.6), Sehwag (32), Gambhir (28.1) and Dhoni (33).
That’s a huge and inexplicable fall. Mind you, we have had two home series against the weak teams of West Indies and New Zealand under Fletcher to boost the averages. That hasn’t seemed to have made any difference.
(The only person not in the list is Rahul Dravid, who has been consistent throughout his career. The only thing that affected Dravid was his captaincy. As captain he averaged 44.5, while as just a player he averaged 53.7.)
The bowling fortunes have also declined.
Take a look at the bowling averages under Kirsten…
Harbhajan Singh (32.7), Zaheer Khan (29.2) and Ishant Sharma (34.5).
Bhajji (43.3), Zaks (37) and Ishant (41.9).
There has been an all-round failure in the team the moment Fletcher took charge.
Even Dhoni’s captaincy has been totally different. Under Kirsten when he did certain strange things, he used to pull it off, much to the surprise of the commentators. Under Fletcher it has all been falling flat.
In fact so clueless and indifferent has Dhoni looked in certain Test matches off late that one wonders if this the same man who took India to the top in all three formats of the game.
While only the players can tell what actually goes on inside the dressing room, certain things are evident even from the outside. Wright looked as if he had the confidence of the team. Chappell was aggressive. Kirsten always looked relaxed and so did the players around him.
Fletcher in contrast looks totally aloof. He will complete two years in April, but he still looks like a total outsider. It may be remembered that even the England team crashed under Fletcher.
An all-time great like Tendulkar has been struggling big time and Fletcher seems to have had no impact whatsoever. Even someone like Dhoni, who has no great Test technique, was always among the runs under Kirsten.
The only silver lining has been the batting forms of Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara, who have blossomed as Test players in 2012.
One is tempted to add Ravichandran Ashwin, but his Test bowling average against Australia was an abysmal 62.8 and against England at home it was a lowly 52.6. So right now he is just a spinning track bully against the minnows. He would find his place in the current Test team as a batsman though.
So maybe if Dhoni continues or Kohli takes over, it won’t make much of a difference.
Right now we need a great coach to bring India back to track in Tests.
It would be a good idea to hire one before the Australia tour, so he would also have enough time to prepare for the tough tour of South Africa in South Africa.
For a new beginning in 2013, we may as well require a new coach too.
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/