India Should Axe Duncan Fletcher but Keep MS Dhoni After 3-1 Loss to England

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India Should Axe Duncan Fletcher but Keep MS Dhoni After 3-1 Loss to England
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A merciless England, led by Alastair Cook, wiped the Oval clean with MS Dhoni's visiting India as they recorded a massive innings and 244-run victory inside three days.

Twenty-seven days is all it took for the outlook toward the future of this young, inexperienced Indian team to change.

Following a historic win at Lord’s on July 21, capped by a spirited, enterprising performance in batting and bowling in hostile conditions, supporters of Indian cricket could sit on their couches with their feet up and a chilled one in hand, proud of how their team had performed, and be thoroughly optimistic of a testing six months ahead.

On August 17, they are more likely to be found in a dingy corner of the neighbourhood pub, trying to drown away all agonising memories of what transpired at the Ageas Bowl, Old Trafford and the Oval, after having given up trying to figure out just how it all happened.

The fact that would hurt the most is that Indian cricket has gone nowhere since three summers ago, when the team was last humiliated on these shores.

That India managed to win a Test match this time around hardly counts for anything, given the performance in the three Tests that followed the solitary win at Lord's, which seems like an unbelievable anomaly now.

If anything, this loss would hurt even more than the 4-0 loss in 2011, after how the Indians cruelly teased one and all at Lord's.

In 2011, after losing the Test series, India even failed to win a single limited-overs game that followed. The dagger was dug deeper into their spine by Michael Clarke’s Australians a few months later, who crushed the Indians by a similar scoreline.

India pay a visit Down Under again later this year for a four-match series ahead of the World Cup in February, where a charged-up Australia would be eager to avenge their 4-0 reversal in India from last year.

The pitiable part is that India have done nothing in these three years to offer some hope to their supporters of a better result.

India’s failures on the recently concluded Test series have been in two departments—batting and fielding—both of which have tried to outdo each other on a scale of farce.

The selectors won’t have it easy when they sit down to dissect this tour and plan ahead to Australia. The culprits in England have been the top four batsmen, who, apart from Murali Vijay in the first couple of matches, just refused to turn up.

This includes players of the calibre and reputation of Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli, of whom so much was rightly expected ahead of the series. Their past record and gushing talent is likely to save them the axe just yet, but then again do India really have able replacements?

Pujara and Kohli probably deserve another go in Australia before the selectors think about pressing the panic button. But then, is that the end of the story? Should no one, apart from Gautam Gambhir and Shikhar Dhawan, get the axe?

There have been growing calls of asking Dhoni to step down, as he has been criticised for being overtly defensive and reactive as captain. However, that would be a risky, if not rash, move, considering the next six months in the buildup to the World Cup.

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India need Dhoni’s experience and robust character as a player, which was evident in his two defiant knocks at Old Trafford and the Oval, when all around him were tumbling like nine pins.

If anything, the 33-year-old Dhoni could be asked to hand over his wicketkeeping gloves to someone younger, as argued in this piece. But India need Dhoni at the helm at least until the World Cup.

If there is anyone or anything in need of an overhaul, it is the coaching staff, primarily the head coach Duncan Fletcher and fielding coach Trevor Penney.

While Penney deserves the sack for this tour alone, where the Indian slip cordon could not catch a cold, Fletcher has long gone past his expiry date as head coach.

When he was brought in as Gary Kirsten’s replacement following the 2011 World Cup, he came with a fabulous track record and CV, being the principal figure in masterminding a turnaround in the fortunes of the England team.

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His skill set included being an astute thinker and an excellent tactician, along with being vastly experienced and resourceful.

Three years later, it seems as if India have hired an impostor.

On the one-day circuit, India have performed reasonably well under him, having won the ICC Champions Trophy last year. However, it is the Test circuit, where his skills would have been most useful, where he has abysmally failed.

In the 33 Tests that India have played under the Fletcher regime, they have won 12 and lost 15. If you filter the results to just away games, it comes down to just the one win at Lord’s in 18 matches, including 13 losses.

Some might say that Fletcher would be nothing more than a scapegoat if sacked after India’s horror show in England, but this is not just about one series.

The plodding 65-year-old, who cuts a rather somnolent figure in the dressing room during games, has failed to inspire any hopes of engineering a revival in India’s fortunes away from home in the longer format.

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In this dark hour, you can’t help but think that India need a dynamic, aggressive and perhaps home-grown coach to shake them up—someone like a Sourav Ganguly, who has recently retired from the game, knows the modern game and would not shy away from accepting the wheel of a sinking ship six months from the World Cup.

With almost three months to go before India set off for a long tour Down Under, now would be the best time to make the necessary changes.

The more conservative approach would be to wait until the end of the World Cup, but only if India are prepared to accept the high possibility of further humiliation.

Fletcher and team might have given their all for India, but it just doesn't seem good enough—almost certainly not if they are even thinking of defending their world title.

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