Two initial points:
- England are not very good anyway.
- Duncan Fletcher is the best all-round coach, man-manager and selector the ECB have employed to date.
But the buck has to stop somewhere, because support in expertise and resources from the ECB could hardly be faulted. If anything, there’s too much back-up. And the counties have in the main done everything in their power to smooth the way. The significance of bowling coach Troy Cooley’s departure has probably been exaggerated.
Geoff Boycott says Fletcher has become too comfortable with his players and should be sacked, and Mark Nicholas believes Fletcher simply needs a rest as he approaches eight years in charge. Andrew Strauss maintains the players must carry the can. Former England bowling coach Bob Cottam feels the demise started on the open-top triumphal bus in London – the attitude from then on was all wrong.
CHARLIE RANDALL says: Duncan Fletcher has lost his nerve. He has turned back to the womb – the 2005 Ashes triumph – with predictable consequences. Sad to say, he should indeed take a rest, permanently, and give way to Peter Moores, the National Academy director, in due course. Possibly a job swap. I feel sorry for Alastair Cook, Sajid Mahmood, Monty Panesar and Chris Read, trying to establish themselves as Test cricketers amid such shambles. Perhaps it will strengthen their resolve. Though Fletcher, not an easy personality to warm to, is one of the world’s most skilful coaches, the list of cock-ups is simply too long. Admitting at last that “we” have made mistakes does not repair much damage. He did not attempt to take much credit for the 2005 Ashes and so should not be condemned for avoiding blame for this winter, but he will probably see the light himself. Expect an announcement that this summer will be his last in charge.
Main errors of Fletcher judgment in this winter’s Ashes
- Captaincy. Bowed to Andrew Flintoff’s passionate desire to be captain while he was struggling for fitness (injured ankles) and form (no time at the crease since July).
- Selection. Gambled unnecessarily with Marcus Trescothick’s health; re-selected wicketkeeper Geraint Jones against all evidence; drafted in Ashley Giles when hopelessly out of practice, at the expense of Monty Panesar; picked Sajid Mahmood as a long shot without success. Moderating point — even the ‘best’ team suffered humiliation in the fourth Test at Melbourne.
- Man management. Under-cooked pre-series preparation; allowed expectation to ruin Steve Harmison’s fragile confidence; failed to insist Kevin Pietersen take responsibility high up the order; damaged wicketkeeper Chris Read’s self-belief (it might be personal between coach and player); persisted with his negative view of spinner Monty Panesar as a non-cricketer; allowed grafter Alastair Cook too many million-dollar shots early in the series; should have told the media that Michael Vaughan had no chance whatsoever of playing in the Ashes instead of allowing unsettling speculation.
- Coaching. It was mainly the batting and not the bowling that scuppered England. The top order, apart from Pietersen, lacked method and belief. Strauss, Bell, Flintoff and Jones all failed to improve or adapt. That’s too long a list.
MILLIONS of cricket followers probably suspected these failings at the time. There is no retrospective element here.