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Dhoni is honest and principled: Fletcher

Team India coach describes the relationship between him and the captain

In cricket, the captain and the coach are the two heads of the family. Together they nurture the team and guide it into the direction of victory. They make match-winners out of gifted players and a team out of a bunch of talented individuals.

Like any family, the relationship between the two heads is of utmost importance for the team to progress on the right path. Their relationship can make or break the team.

In an attempt to learn more about the relationship between Team India’s heads, BCCI.TV caught up with the one half of the captain-coach pair, Duncan Fletcher, to talk about the other half, MS Dhoni.

This is how Flectcher describes MS the man and Dhoni the captain.

What was the first thing that struck you about MS Dhoni?

That he is a very, very honest man. He would quietly sit down and discuss the point that he wants to make. He likes clarity when he is discussing something with you. What I really admire about him is that he is a very principled man. And because of his principles, he wants to give everyone a fair chance, sometimes to his own detriment. I try to share that sentiment with him because some people get a fair chance and the others tend to be judged in a different light. But with him it is very straightforward and simple; if you give one guy so many games to perform, it must be equal for everyone.

What kind of relationship do you share with him? Is it more a friendship or is it strictly professional?

You can say that it is a professional friendship. We both understand that our relationship as captain and coach is crucial to the team, because cricket is a very difficult sport. It is an unusual and unique sport, in that a coach doesn’t really have great power or say in the team matters as he does in other sports. The captain has the power in cricket, which is how it should be. The coach has no control over what is going on in the field and it’s the captain who is in the battle. Therefore, he should have the most say in the side. But because it is such a complicated sport, at the end of the five days of the match, the captain has to have rest. When you are the one making all the decisions, it can get to you. And that’s where the transition takes place where the coach takes over a little bit. If he understands the thinking of the captain, those decisions are quite easy to make. You know that the captain is linked in with you with regards to how he wants the team to be run and the procedures that have to be followed. So, it is very crucial that you understand each other and build a good relationship around that.

In what ways did he help you settle down in the team when you first joined?

He was very good with me in terms of offering advice about how things worked on and off the field – dealing with the administrative aspect like selection as well. Culturally it was very different for me but MS helped me ease into the camp. MS is just like that; he makes things easy for everyone.

How long did it take you to build that rapport with him?

I think I got along with MS very quickly, since the first time I met him when I flew over to Mumbai to pick the squad for the West Indies series. I think he is a very easy guy to get along with and I was pretty fortunate in that regards. I think anyone would gel well with him because he is approachable, he never pre-judges anyone and always looks to spend time with you and talk to you before he forms an opinion about you.

What according to you is the best thing about MS Dhoni the leader?

He leads from the front. When he comes out to bat under pressure, that’s when he is very, very good. He is the first one to get out of the trench and is basically saying, ‘guys, I am going to do it and you just have to follow suit’. I have seen many captains who are good leaders when things are fine. But when pressure comes on, things start to fall all over around them. That’s where MS is outstanding. He soaks in the pressure and leads the path for the team to follow.

When two strong-minded people are at the helm, there is bound to be a clash of ideologies sometimes. How often do you two have debates about team-related matters?

If he is the man leading people out of the trench, he should have the men he wants. The skill of the coach is just to point out areas that he might have missed. MS doesn’t miss many but there might be just one point somewhere in a strategy, or something else and as a coach you’ve got to have the skill to find it. The coach’s job is to always think out of the box and keep coming up with new ideas for the captain. Whether he takes them on board or not, is his prerogative. A leader must get ideas from everywhere, go away, assimilate them and decide which way he wants to go. And then, once that decision is made, it is important to have that conviction about it, which MS does.

Did your relationship go through an interesting phase when the team wasn’t winning many Test matches outside India?

I don’t think it changes. When you go through a bad phase, you only see the true character of the person. It goes for the players as well as leaders. And you see that with MS. He doesn’t get overexcited when we do well and stays calm when there is real pressure. That is so important. As captain and coach, you have got to keep the side motivated, try to keep the humour going in the change room. We ensured that the players were still enjoying their game and didn’t try to change things with tick boxes.

MS is known for his calmness. He just controls his emotions on the field. Having worked so closely with him, have you seen the emotional side of MS?

Everyone has emotions and the skill in all sports is to control those emotions. If you control your emotions, you have a better chance of winning. If you expose yourself, you’ve basically said to the opposition, ‘you’ve got me’! When you’ve got the fight in your eye and you’re controlling your emotions, that’s when you’re at your best. With your own team, very rarely you have to confront your players with emotion when there is a big problem. If you do it often, the impact lessens. But when there is a real problem and you let your emotions out to confront it, the players appreciate it.

You earlier spoke about how MS backs his players to the hilt. At times it becomes difficult to justify that backing when the performances don’t come. Are you both generally on the same page when that happens?

There are these debates that we go through and we come out with a conclusion. Some of these decisions are not easy either way – whether it is leaving a player out or bringing someone in. But you can simplify the decisions by asking one question: What is good for the team now, but more importantly, what is good for the team in the future? Once you do that, you will reach the correct conclusion.

How rigid or flexible is he once he has made up his mind about something?

It is not easy to change his mind, and that’s how it should be. A leader should be stubborn. If he is indecisive, how can he lead the team under pressure? You’ve got to have a stubborn streak in you. If you don’t have it, you’ll go out there with your mind floating around amid so many ideas and that’s a problem. The good captains will make more right stubborn decisions than wrong ones.

With MS, one gets the feeling that even though he is pretty simple in his approach to everything, it is not easy to figure out what is really going on in his mind.

It is very difficult to tell what is going on in anyone’s mind. You think you understand people but somewhere along the line, you get surprised by their behaviour. One thing I am sure about when it comes to MS is that being an intelligent man, he is not simple. But he has the skill of putting complicated and difficult statements across simply. To be able to think in a complex manner and then put it across simply is a great skill. That’s why there are very few leaders because not many can do that.

MS does not believe in a lot of talking and long team meetings. Do you have a similar approach?

To a degree I do. If you are keeping things simple, why have long meetings? Cricket is a very complicated game and you’ve got to be very careful while putting things across to ensure you don’t complicate things further for the players. If you have 10 points to make, just choose three most important ones; that’s the tipping point. There is a lot of tension inside a dressing room just before a Test match and you don’t need players to take the field confused.

When the seniors retired, you knew you both had to lead the team in a transition period. Did you two chalk out a plan for the future?

We did sit around and tried to come up with a long-term plan, which is not easy. You have to draw out a general plan and be flexible with certain areas. Two years ago, we decided who will play which role in the team and there has been a slight change to that. That can happen because somewhere along the line someone might lose form or when they get to international level, we realise they’re not as good as we had thought they were. Others rise to the occasion and show they have big-match temperament.

Shirin Sadikot

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Ishant tells the bouncer tale

Indian fast bowler tells the story behind his match-winning spell at Lord’s

Twenty five is a wonderful age. It’s the age at which you venture out in the real world and begin to experience the challenges and difficulties that come with being an adult with responsibilities. You’re old enough to tell right from wrong and yet raw enough to make mistakes.

Ishant Sharma is 25 years old.

He has already played 57 Test matches for his country. He has been on the highest crests and been pushed down to the lowest troughs. He has attracted sensational praise and adulation and been subjected to cruelest criticism and ridicule.

Most 25-year olds would crumble and burn with that kind of extremes. It would mess with their psyche and motivation.

But not Ishant. He fights on. He keeps toiling. He continues to quietly work hard on his game, his body. He never hesitates in doing whatever his team and his captain want from him, even if it means letting go of personal glory. Ishant is a team man. He is an honest workhorse. And only sometimes he gets rewarded for his effort.

That time came on July 21, 2014, Day 5 of the Lord’s Test. India needed six wickets to win and the match was drifting away with Joe Root and Moeen Ali were grinding it out for England. Last over before Lunch and MS Dhoni decided to take a gamble. He needed a faithful accomplice and Ishant was there.

The tall, lanky fast bowler bent his back and send down eight overs of intense, short-pitched bowling with a ball that was as soft as a brownie. He bounced five England batsmen out and won India a Test match at Lord’s after 28 years. Ishant had 7 for 74.

In a chat with BCCI.TV, the Man of the Match explained the method behind the mad ploy.

You are a part of history!

Unbelievable! It feels great to be part of the history but more than that it feels wonderful to lead India to this historic win. This is a very special win for us and winning matches for my country is all I want to do in life.

What was the thinking behind the all-out bouncer ploy?

In my first spell of five overs, the batsmen go beaten quite a few times and the ball moved as well. So I thought the ball would still be reversing, which didn’t happen. That’s when MS bhai told me that since the ball has become really soft, let’s try something new. He said let’s open up the whole field and bowl only bouncers. This is the last over (before lunch) and you never know what could happen. The plan worked and we decided to continue with it after lunch. We persisted with the old ball because with the new ball the batsman can judge the bounce with ease, while with the old one he cannot gauge the bounce as some might take off and an odd one will keep low. I feel all the wickets I got today should go to MS bhai because he planned them and set the field for them.

Have you ever bounced so many batsmen out in one innings before?

No (smiles). You keep experiencing new things in life. This was one such new experience for me. I will try to learn from it.

An Indian pacer bouncing out England batsmen – that’s something new as well.

They say the Indian batsmen are vulnerable against the short balls but in this Indian team we have batsmen who can play the short ball very well and we have fast bowlers who can bowl good bouncers at will.

Surprised to see England batsmen playing hook and pulling everything like that?

The wicket had slowed down considerably over the five days and because of the footmarks there was a lot of variable bounce. It was very difficult for the batsmen to leave the bouncers; they had to play it and they had to go for the pull or hook.

Both Joe Dawes and Duncan Fletcher told me Indian pacers don’t bowl enough bouncers. They will be happy today.

They will. Duncan keeps telling me, ‘bowl more bouncers, bowl more bouncers’. But when you go in with a plan, sometimes it works and at times it doesn’t. Things happen suddenly. Today I got to learn that if you keep trying persistently with the short ball ploy on a flat wicket with nothing in it for you, you can get rewards you never expected.

Being the senior-most bowler in the team, are you transforming yourself into the leader of the pack?

When I am on the field, I talk to the other pacers and mainly share my experience in a similar situation. If you want to pick 20 wickets as a team, it is of paramount importance that the bowlers communicate with each other constantly. I just tell them things like how the wicket generally plays and what the particular batsman generally does. I do try to be the leader on the field because I have played more matches than them. But once we’re off it, I am not a senior player because we all are almost of same age. So, there is a dual aspect to that role.

Did you put your experience of playing at Lord’s in 2011 to practice today in any way?

Last time when I picked four wickets at Lord’s, I remember I was bowling very well in the first session but didn’t get any wickets. When I came back on, I got four wickets in no time. It was on my mind today. I knew that on this ground the wickets come in bulk. So, I knew that if I stuck to my ploy patiently, I will get the rewards. I told the same to Shami and Bhuvi as well, so that they keep the belief and don’t give up.

You have copped so much criticism over the years. Does it hurt you sometimes when you hear or read something nasty?

No one has given me as much in life as cricket has. When I go out on the cricket field, I give all that I have, every time. Sometimes, I feel like my efforts are never appreciated by people other than my team-mates. Even today, because I got all these wickets, people are praising me. But had I gone for runs, had the plan failed, no one would have appreciated the fact that I was continuously bowling bouncers with an 80-plus overs old ball. It has always been like that with me and now I am pretty used to it. I am experienced enough to ensure that I don’t get affected by what XYZ is saying about me. I know that my mates have the belief in me and they appreciate what I do for the team. That’s enough for me to carry on. I will continue to give myself fully each time I step on the field to play for my country.

Shirin Sadikot

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