Coach-captain conflict could be a distraction for India, says Fleming

Stephen Fleming, who lifted New Zealand’s only ICC trophy 17 years ago, feels India is in with a risk of being distracted with the ongoing dispute.

Fleming, who has had a fruitful association with the Indian Premier League, first as coach of Chennai Super Kings and then Rising Pune Supergiant, had long been chased by the BCCI to take over as India coach.   -  R. Ravindran

India and Australia are two of the prime contenders for the Champions Trophy. Interestingly, both the teams have entered the tournament in the midst of controversial scenarios. While the Australian players have been involved in a stand-off with Cricket Australia over player payments, the reported indifference of opinion between captain Virat Kohli and coach Anil Kumble has overshadowed India’s title defence so far. Stephen Fleming, who lifted New Zealand’s only ICC trophy 17 years ago, feels India are in with a risk of being distracted with the ongoing dispute.

“For Australia, it's been going on for a while. We have seen a very united front from the Australians. They have been very consistent with their message. In fact, it might help them; galvanise and keep them together,” Fleming told Sportstar on Friday.

“The Indian one is a little bit new and potentially, could be a distraction. But it depends on how much truth there is to some of the statements that are doing the rounds, in particular about the relationship between the captain and the coach. That’s why I don't think it will play a huge part. When the guys get on the field, which would be the last thing on their mind. And both teams are favourites to win the tournament because they are experienced. And experienced players have been through this before.”

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Fleming, who has had a fruitful association with the Indian Premier League, first as coach of Chennai Super Kings and then Rising Pune Supergiant, had long been chased by the BCCI to take over as India coach. But the former left-handed opening batsman, in the city as an expert panellist for ESPNcricinfo's video show Match Day, preferred to restrict his association to Indian cricket in the form of IPL.

While he referred to a query about whether he was having a silent laugh over the manner in which India coaches have been treated of late as “mischievous”, he didn't desist from explaining the challenges of coaching a high-profile India coach.

“It’s high reward and high risk. The fortune of the team very much dictates how you are perceived and it's just through the passion of the fans. That's also a part of the appeal. It's a wonderful country to be involved in cricket but it can be a very tough country when things don't go your way,” Fleming said.

“If you can strike that balance between good performances and... you're able to employ and play your part, it can be incredibly rewarding. That's certainly my experience. It's been a massive learning curve and incredibly rewarding. I absolutely love my time coaching over here and coaching players in IPL.”

Dhoni’s new role

Fleming has had a prolonged association with Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the IPL. Besides the coach-captain combo, the duo also shared the honours of leading their respective national teams for a long time. How has Dhoni been coping with the life of playing only as a senior player then, having passed on the captaincy mantle to Virat Kohli?

“Being the wicket-keeper, he has the opportunity to help with field placings and angles and provide that contribution. It is always difficult when you have done it for so long, it has been a key part of your cricketing life, it is an adjustment to make. My experience with him thus far in the IPL is he has been managing it pretty well,” Fleming said.

“He has been helping the senior players in the IPL. It's a testament to MS's characteristic that he has been able to do that. I think he is very determined now to finish his career well as a player and becoming more comfrtoable with the role he plays with Virat and the Indian team.”

Does Fleming see Dhoni last till the 2019 World Cup? “There’s no certainty but I see his determination and motivation to do that. And you see when a great player has motivation, they more often than not would achieve it. So I would not bet against seeing MS a part of the World Cup in 2019.”

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