Duncan Fletcher's changing India can still spring a surprise

The decision to extend the India coach's contract by a year has not proved universally popular, but the BCCI retain faith Fletcher can oversee the team's transitional phase.

Duncan Fletcher (r) in discussion with MS Dhoni.
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Any way you look at it, Duncan Fletcher's coaching record with India is a catalogue of underachievement. Only eight of 22 Tests have been won. The 10 defeats include six to England, the team that briefly replaced them at the top of the Test rankings.

In coloured clothes, things are slightly better, with 25 one-day international wins, from 44 played, and nine Twenty20 successes, from 17 games. But even in the abbreviated formats, India have slipped on the big occasions, failing to qualify for the Asia Cup final and not getting past the Super Eights at the World Twenty20.

The decision to extend Fletcher's contract by a year has not gone down well. Sunil Gavaskar reckoned that a home-grown coach would not have been given such leeway.

"If he were an Indian, probably he would not have got an extension," he said. "If you look at the past, every time an Indian coach didn't do well in a series, he was removed."

Bishan Singh Bedi, a key member of the legendary 1970s spin quartet, who also coached India in the early 1990s, was far less diplomatic about the move by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

"It's their money, if they want to blow it, let them," he said to Wisden India. "Fletcher can't do anything with the Indian team. Gary Kirsten did well because the players did well. Now, the team isn't doing well. The team makes the coach what he is. Have an Indian as the coach, who will be more passionate about the cause."

Fletcher's critics as well as admirers now accept that he likely will be around to supervise India's defence of the 50-over World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 2015.

The chances of him being replaced less than 12 months before that begins are remote. There are few coaches out there who would accept such a taxing assignment at short notice.

The team has seen wholesale changes over the past year. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have retired. Zaheer Khan, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag have been dropped. Harbhajan Singh has been recalled, dropped, recalled and dropped again.

Younger players like Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan have shone with the bat, while Ravindra Jadeja has been a real threat with his left-arm spin.

The higher echelons of the BCCI clearly feel that Fletcher is the right man to preside over the transition.

Sachin Tendulkar alone remains of a storied batting line-up, and India's next Test assignments are in South Africa, against the most formidable side in the world.

Those are also conditions very familiar to Fletcher, who has been settled in Cape Town for years. Kirsten, who now coaches South Africa, considered him a mentor, and he has also worked with the likes of Jacques Kallis.

If Fletcher can identify a couple of promising pace bowlers to supplement Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav before that tour, this team could yet be capable of a surprise or two.

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