Swinging between extremes

Indian coach Fletcher admits his team hasn’t done too well outside the sub-continent and needs to be consistent

Mahendra Singh Dhoni arrives at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg yesterday.
Duncan Fletcher
There’s been “no middle road” with India’s performances since winning the cricket World Cup, coach Duncan Fletcher said on Wednesday as his Twenty20 squad flew in for a rapid visit to South Africa. 

Giving youngsters experience away from home was now one of the keys to finding consistency, he said, in the hope that trips away will “pay dividends in the future.’’ 

India plays the Proteas in a one-off T20 on Friday and despite the game falling just days before the start of the Indian Premier League, Fletcher said it would help. 

“We’re trying to develop a young one-day squad and Twenty20 squad,” he said. “These blokes have played well on the subcontinent and any game they play out of it must be good from an experience point of view. 

“(We want to) expose them to different pressures and different conditions. From my point of view there is a lot of talent around, we just need to make sure we give them that experience they require.” 

India has been notoriously up and down since lifting the World Cup a year ago, falling to heavy test series defeats in England and Australia but also whitewashing the English in an ODI contest at home. 

It’s a regular problem for the Indians, who have often dominated at home and struggled on tour, and was highlighted again after Fletcher took over from World Cup-winning coach Gary Kirsten — who is now in charge of South Africa. “Well, so far there’s been no middle road,’’ Fletcher said at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo Airport. “We’ve played some very good cricket ... then we went to England and had a few problems and didn’t play as well as we could.’’ 

The inconvenient timing of Friday’s game at the Wanderers also hasn’t worried Fletcher or captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. It was organized by Cricket South Africa as a tribute for allrounder Jacques Kallis, but has required the busy Indian players to fly nine hours overnight from Mumbai for a two-hour game before returning for the IPL, which starts next Wednesday. 

“I don’t think fatigue will be a real factor,’’ Dhoni said. “We all enjoy playing IPL. That’s one format where you’re not representing the country and the span of the tournament is slightly longer, you play quite a few games. I won’t say you have the liberty but even if you lose a few games it doesn’t really matter by the end of the league stage if you have qualified for the last four.” 

Dhoni also identified T20 cricket as the ``ideal platform’’ to develop a new breed of young players and the IPL as useful preparation for India’s campaign at the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka in September and October. 

Virat Kohli, who has been one of India’s outstanding batsmen in all formats recently, first emerged in 20-over cricket, proving its value in developing young talent. The 23-year-old Kohli made 116 in his last test and three centuries and a half-century in his last four ODIs.
“As of now, yes, you can say he’s one of the best-performing youngsters that we’ve got,’’ Dhoni said of Kohli, who is vice-captain in South Africa. “He’s doing it quite consistently which is very good for the side, irrespective of the format. Test matches, ODIs, 20 overs. He is someone who loves to go on the field and express himself.” 

Fletcher meets U-19 players

India coach Duncan Fletcher and other members of his support staff spent some quality time with the Under-19 cricket team at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore, fine-tuning their preparation for the August Junior World Cup in Australia. 

Fletcher, along with bowling coach Joe Dawes, fielding coach Trevor Penney and head physiotherapist Evan Speechly, watched the boys closely over two sessions before flying to South Africa Tuesday for a one-off Twenty20 game. 

Under-19 coach Bharat Arun said, “Fletcher’s interaction with the youngsters was highly beneficial He had a close look at the youngsters and spoke at length on the finer points of the game.” 

With no international cricket in the next two-three months, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) also wants the senior coaching team to interact regularly with the junior cricketers. 

BCCI secretary Sanjay Jagdale told IANS that the idea is to make the junior cricketers better prepared when they make their transition to the senior team. 

“The idea behind Fletcher's sessions with the juniors is to help out the team ahead of the U-19 World Cup. The interaction will surely help the junior cricketers,” he said.