Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Article excerpt

Some years ago, when the last Conservative government was limping towards defeat, someone published a book called101 Uses for a John Major . It was cruel and fairly funny, the premise being that since he couldn't run his party, there must be some other way he could be employed. Perhaps an Indian publisher is considering a new version after the country wilted in the Test series this summer:101 Uses for a Duncan Fletcher .

What does the India coach actually do? He called his memoirsBehind the Shades , a vain and self-regarding title, but quite what has been going on behind those shades this summer has been a bit of a mystery. Fletcher has sat there impassively, chewing slightly, inscrutable behind his dark glasses -- as Wodehouse might have said, has anyone been less scruted than Fletcher? -- watching allegedly the best 11 sportsmen in a country of a billion play like they had never heard of Test cricket. In two of the Tests, their combined efforts over two innings came to only 90 overs -- one day's play.

I tell a slight lie, actually. At one point in the Southampton Test, Fletcher was seen to stand up to watch them. The image of him staring flat ahead reminded some of Al Pacino looking across the lake at the end ofThe Godfather Part II as scores were settled, except on this occasion the killings were self-inflicted.

What did Fletcher say to them at the end of play? How did he try to convince them that wafting at balls comfortably missing off stump, or bowling misdirected bouncers, or getting wickets with no-balls, might not be the way to win? Did they even listen, or is the side totally run by its powerful captain, M.S. Dhoni? Before he went into cricket, Fletcher was responsible for developing a new number-plate system in Zimbabwe that would be more easily memorable by witnesses in hit-and-run cases. …

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