Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test Cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for the country in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after the legendary Eknath Solkar. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. A grand total of 783 runs came off Chopra's bat in Delhi's title-winning Ranji Trophy in 2007-08. Chopra currently plays for the Rajasthan Royals of the Indian Premier League and represents Rajasthan in the Ranji Trophy, after having played for Delhi for over a decade. He also amassed a massive total of 734 runs in Rajasthan’s Ranji victory in the year 2010-11. In 2009, Chopra turned author with Beyond the Blues: A First-Class Season Like No Other. The book garnered critical appreciation while Cricket Pundits like Suresh Menon claimed it to be "the best book written by an Indian test cricketer” in his review for www.cricinfo.com. Aakash continues to tell the story of Indian cricket, its frustrations and fantasies, through his popular weekly column in The Hindustan Times, www.yahoo.com, www.cricketnext.com, sports magazines and through various TV shows.
Fletcher's failed to learn from Kirsten
Posted on: 08:35 AM IST Feb 01, 2012 IST
When Duncan Fletcher took over the reigns of the Indian cricket team, it was, perhaps, one of the most enviable jobs in the cricketing world. The Indian team had not only won the World Cup after 28 years, but was also the best Test team in the world. Moreover, India had a stable captain in MS Dhoni who was a heady mix of both youth and experience. Who wouldn't want to be the head honcho of such an ensemble? Well theoretically, life couldn't have been better for Fletcher, only he didn't know that his post, besides being the most coveted, was also the toughest of them all.
Kirsten in office
Gary Kirsten was successful for two reasons. One, right from the onset, he was very clear that his goal was to last until the 2011 World Cup and hence planned for only that long. Two, he was pretty confident about the nucleus of the team. He knew his job was to fill in a few blanks here and there.
Also, Kirsten's worries were limited to finding the No. 6 batsman in Test cricket and getting the right batting order in the ODIs. Since matches can't be won without bowlers, he identified people like Praveen Kumar, Munaf Patel and Ashish Nehra who could well do the job for him.
This was also the reason of him not demanding too much from the selectors, provided they didn't fiddle with the core of the team, which they didn't.
Over to Fletcher
Taking over a successful team can be a very tricky task. The team had already peaked and needed to sustain its position. This can only happen when one is ready to acknowledge the changes required, however radical they may be. Unless they are implemented, decline is imminent. Unfortunately, Fletcher decided to blindly adopt Kirsten's winning formula. He distanced himself from the team selection in the first few months, something his predecessor did, and which he could ill-afford. He allowed the selectors to try out a few youngsters for the Emerging Players Tournament in Australia and India's tour to the West Indies without realizing that he was losing important time and crucial opportunities to get people ready for the job in England and Australia.
Fletcher's faux pas
Once he had made those choices, he was left with very little room to maneuver in England. In spite of working in England for years, he dared to walk into a Test series with only two regular openers in the squad. To make matters even tougher, both these openers had never played Test cricket in England. Virender Sehwag's return to international cricket was also fast tracked assuming he would play the savior despite not playing any competitive cricket post his surgery. The Indian coach made many such glaring errors and paid heavily for it. It seemed that he swung between being too ambitious and being cautious enough to not stir the hornet's nest too soon.
Fletcher's to-do list
Now, he finds himself in an even more precarious situation - he'd have to make more than a few drastic changes to take this team forward. The three pillars of Indian batting Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman are not going to be there forever and its Fletcher's biggest challenge to ensure a seamless transition. He would need to identify at least two capable batsmen for every batting slot, which may require him to be a bit ruthless. He will have to look beyond the numbers accumulated in the shorter formats and dig a little deeper to find personnel with the right technique and temperament to succeed in longer formats. He would also be expected to identify and then nurture a pool of fast bowlers, since India must get prepared for life after Zaheer Khan. He isn't getting younger by the day and it's about time we hold Eric Simons, the bowling coach accountable for his wards.
It's about time our coaches go a step beyond the national team and look for talent in the domestic circuit - the breeding ground for budding talent.