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Shirin Sadikot in Nottingham 05 July 2014 - 05:20pm IST

We’re positive but not over-confident: Fletcher

India coach assesses his team as they prepare for England Tests

As sports fans around the world immerse themselves in the football World Cup madness and the Wimbledon fever, in the quiet of the English countryside, is a bunch of young men preparing for the biggest challenge of their professional lives.

Channelising their youthful exuberance to the right direction and polishing their immense skills is a man seasoned and sagacious with years of experience. Like a father figure, he guides these young men, protects them from all the distractions and prepares them for the big challenge ahead.

That’s the feeling one gets on watching Duncan Fletcher prepare the Indian Cricket Team for the Test series in England. And when he talks about his boys, there is as much harsh, honest assessment as there is an urge to defend them.

Here is a BCCI.TV exclusive with the Team India coach, where he shares his thoughts about India’s English sojourn.

Much has been spoken about this Indian team being young and inexperienced. But not many people can see the quiet confidence that the boys have been exhibiting since getting here.

For us, the most important thing is that they are confident, which comes from the environment were everyone feels like they are contributing to the team. That makes each player feel like they’re an important part of the team, which is very crucial. With these young boys I felt they could have been a little over-confident when they went to South Africa and New Zealand because they had done so well in India. As the series went, it made them realize that playing away from home is very difficult. They believe that they have learnt from those tours and so there is positivity in the camp but the over-confidence has gone. But again, until you actually go out there and play a game, you will never know if you actually have learnt.

How has your approach to coaching changed from the last time India were here, given the seniors have made way for a bunch of young batsmen?

You’ve got to alter your methods. Fortunately for me, I went through a similar phase with England where the older players were left out or retired and a whole new generation of cricketers came in. The major difference is that with the older ones you just sit back and let them come to you. No matter how good and experienced one is, bad habits sometimes creep in and you’ve got to help tem get rid of those small bad habits without being too overbearing.

The younger players are a bit reluctant because they don’t understand their game fully. So, you’ve got to go to them and talk to them. However, you have to make sure you send the message very clearly because otherwise they can get confused and start making their game more difficult. You keep the communication very simple and don’t make more than one change at a time, even though some players might require more than one change – technically and mentally. The key is to change only one link of the chain at a time. If you change two, you don’t know which one will confuse the player. That’s why it takes time. Cricket is not an easy game to improve at in a short time.

How did the arrangement of having Rahul Dravid around come about?

I remember when Rahul spoke to me about retiring in Australia I had a chat with him about playing some kind of role with the team. I always thought he could offer much to the team even when not playing. Quite rightly, he said he wanted to go home and be with his family. I again gave him a call a year later and he still wasn’t ready to get away from his family for long periods. It has always been at the back of my mind about Rahul. I see he is mentoring the Rajasthan Royals and enjoying it and thought this was the ideal time to contact him and ask him to be with us for a while since he had done so well the last time we were here. As is typical of Rahul, he was happy to come here and help India.

Also, people would think I have called him to help the batsmen. But actually it’s as much for the bowlers. What people don’t understand is that the bowlers think like bowlers. I want Rahul to talk to them and make them think like batsmen. That way they will know what areas a batsman likes and doesn’t like, which will help them a great deal in forming their strategies. The problem is that the Indian bowlers don’t bat or practice batting when they’re playing domestic cricket. And so, while they understand their bowling, they don’t understand batting. Rahul can play a role right through. His approach and his character is so good. I’ve really enjoyed talking cricket with Rahul, I really rated him and wanted him back in the side for sometime now.

How much of a help has his presence been for you personally?

We’ve had some chats since he got here and discussed various ideas and possibilities. What I also like about him is that he can relate to the players culturally. Also, if a player gets the same message from more than one person, he is going to be more convinced about it. It has been only a short while since he’s been here but having a man of his caliber and experience around is always going to be a benefit. I mean, how can it not be?

Both you and Dhoni have spoken about learning from the mistakes of the previous overseas tours. What were the mistakes?

They are small mistakes that add up and suddenly become a worry. For me the biggest mistake was that they made their game complicated. The batsmen, for instance, tried to bat a little too differently than they would in India. The only actual difference was they had to get used to a bit more bounce. Because of this bounce, when it comes to the short ball you just have to make up your mind whether you’re going to play or leave it. In India you can play it on a consistent basis.

For the bowlers the length changes a little – you have to bowl a bit fuller when you go overseas. And it’s not an easy thing to do, especially for a young bowler. You’ve been groomed and trained your brain to bowl a certain way and even if the difference is only 6-12 inches, it’s not easy to make the change instantly and that too under pressure. We see experienced international players’ games altering under pressure. Now here is an inexperienced side with players who are still learning their game and they will take time to get used to the varied challenges.

What are your views on the Indian batsmen’s perceived vulnerability against the short ball?

I think the matter has been over-exaggerated because most of the boys play the short ball well. The problem is that because there is this label against them, as soon as something goes wrong, fingers start getting pointed. Even if you’re a good player of the short ball, you are going to get out to it. Ricky Ponting was one of the best and still got out hooking and pulling. It’s just a label that’s attached to the Indians and people want to keep it on because it gives them a convenient story.

Another argument against some Indian batsmen is that in their anticipation of the short ball, they often get out to a fuller one.

That’s not only the case with the Indians but batsmen around the world. The bouncer is a key part of a bowler’s armoury not because it gets him a wicket but because it leads to the ball that gets him a wicket. That’s why I tell the Indian pacers to bowl more bouncers – I don’t think they bowl enough short balls.

In 2011 the team came here soon after an emotionally and physically draining experience of the World Cup win. Do you think this time there is freshness in the camp which will work well?

I think it will be very crucial. I saw the same thing with England when after winning the Ashes we went straight to Pakistan. You can try as hard as you want but it is very difficult to get that out of your system immediately. It takes time to sink in and wash through your system.

Most apprehensions about India’s overseas performances have revolved around the bowling. The focus will again be on the bowling attack especially since it’s such a young bunch.

The bowlers are pretty inexperienced, we haven’t really got anyone to lead the group and we haven’t taken 20 wickets in a Test since quite a while now. But for once we have a good variety in our pace attack. They are still pretty inexperienced but experience can also come from learning quickly, and we hope they have done that. It will be so very crucial for them as a unit to stay disciplined and not try too much. It’s just about ensuring that we get these young men’s minds right.

Dhoni has time and again said how he misses a seam all-rounder in overseas Tests. Have you been paying special attention to Stuart Binny’s preparations?

Lots of sides struggle in that area. Australia did so well but never really had a seam all-rounder. The only side that’s produced them is South Africa. It’s a concern for any team. But if we need five bowlers, Stuart becomes a very important part of the setup. So, we’ve been working very closely with him. But at the same time, again, you have to be careful that the mind is not confused. It’s about finding that fine line between letting him bowl and bat his way and just do little stuff that increases his confidence in his ability.