Leeds, Aug. 24: The other day, somebody described Duncan Fletcher as the Ivan Lendl of cricket. Well, yes, the England coach just doesnít smile. But, this former Zimbabwe captain sure knows his job.
Fletcher generally avoids one-to-ones with the Media, but did make an exception for The Telegraph on the eve of the on-going Headingley Test. Incidentally, a request for the interview was made as far back as the Lordís Test.
Following are excerpts
On having taken over (in the latter half of 1999) at a time Englandís stock was so low
There were many considerations and I had to weigh a lot of things but, basically, it was a challenge... In any case, you donít turn down opportunities to coach a national team. More than anything else, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.
On the balance sheet, three years on
Weíve made some progress in Test cricket and have taken huge strides in the one-day game... Of course, there have been problems with injuries and players not wishing to tour the sub-continent during winter... Taking that into account, weíve been doing reasonably well..
On what has effected this turnaround
Weíve put in place certain structures... The man management is better and weíve been consistent ó to the extent we could be ó with the players. It gives them confidence. Weíve also worked on the team spirit and everybody feels comfortable in the dressing room.
On whether the credit should be shared equally between Nasser Hussain and him
Canít say that... Moreover, credit must go to others as well... The seniors... In fact, every individual who has worked with a goal in mind: To move up the ladder.
On Hussain the captain
Nasser has been first class... We appreciate each otherís approach and itís great to have a captain who wishes to be one step ahead of the opposition. Nasser reads the game very well and his field placements are excellent... Honestly, Iíve rarely come across cricketers who understand the game at such depth.
On whether he is Ďworriedí the partnership with Hussain could end after the World Cup, next March
In life, there always will be things you canít have any control over... I wish Nasser doesnít quit, but... At the moment, though, all Iím thinking about is winning this series.
On whether captains and coaches have a shelf life
Donít know' Look at (Sir Alex) Ferguson... I think it depends on the individual. For whatever reason, some may have a shelf life of two years, for others that could be ten... Bottomline is withstanding the pressure at this level.
On whether, as reported, he is himself keen to continue beyond September 2003 (when his contract ends)
Iíve been misquoted... I may have given it some thought privately, but Iím yet to make a public statement. With time, Iíll definitely be thinking more about my own future. However, Iíll first discuss matters with the ECB, not the Media.
On a coachís top function
Depends on what the coach wants to do... Personally, I wish to be the one man in control... I like handling people off the field and, obviously, itís important to identify areas where a player may need improvement. For instance, Iíve laid much emphasis on playing spin. Cricket has many aspects and, really, itís up to the coach to determine the role he actually wishes to play.
On whether, as coach, he has tried to alter somebodyís natural approach
If a change has to be made, the coach must know when to do so... The skill of a coach lies there... Indeed, the timing counts... If I could add, you may have a player whose technique is perfect, but if the opposition has sorted him out, then the coach may have to innovate. As Iíve said, timing is the key... Doing things at the right time.
On helping players become stronger in the mind
Again, timing matters... A coach just canít rush and say things... One must realise the team comprises individuals and the needs of one may not be similar to the guy in the next room... Iíve always believed you win more games in the dressing room than out in the middle. If the players are comfortable, they are bound to be mentally relaxed. Obviously, that will be reflected in their performance. Weíve got a culture whereby every player wants the rest to succeed too.
On whether, with all the technology, coaching has become easier
Definitely, though at times, technology gets over-stated. But I do accept that, at this level, small things can make a huge difference. However, thereís a flip-side to this technology: You get exposed.
On whether the Bob Woolmer-Hansie Cronje Ďexperimentí with the one-way radio (1999 World Cup) could eventually come to stay
It will, I think. The game can change with each ball, especially in the one-dayers. So, the gameplan may need to be quickly altered... Will the captainís authority get diluted' I look at it differently ó whatís best, should be done. If radio contact is going to make it better, why resist' Like it or not, technology will have a role in cricket.
On largely doing away with specialist coaches in his back-up team
Again, itís a matter of timing. I mean, whatís the point of a specialist batting coach on the eve of a Test' What difference can he make in one or two days' On the contrary, there will be big problems if the gentleman tries to change somebodyís technique two days before a match. Right now, I know I understand my players well.
On whether he has himself been influenced by any coach
Nobody. I do things my way and try and stay ahead of the rest. I have general control over the players, keep chatting with them, keep analysing their game... I never rush things.
On whether he finds time to unwind
(Laughs, for a change) I donít... When I was with the computer industry, back in Zimbabwe, I could always lock my desk in office and take a vacation. Now, I canít do that... Thereís no free moment, thereís always something which needs to be addressed... There will always be those calls from players saying they are injured and unavailable... Itís a high-pressure job.
Finally, on whether he still has emotional ties with Zimbabwe
You canít ever forget where youíve come from... Even now, I have great memories of my school (St Edward)... It has produced the Nick Prices and Graeme Hicks... The Dave Houghtons as well... My feelings about Zimbabwe wonít change.