Continuity was always going to be a factor of paramount importance as the BCCI searched for a worthy successor to Gary Kirsten. In picking 62-year-old Duncan Fletcher, the Board and the players have chosen perhaps the best man for a smooth transition — the former Zimbabwe captain was Kirsten’s first coach, and his greatest influence in the world of cricket.
Long before Fletcher made his reputation as an international coach, he was big news in South African cricket — as the brains behind the country’s most dangerous provincial team, Western Province. Along with stalwart captain Eric Simons and star opener Kirsten, Fletcher made up the troika that took the side through its golden era in the 1990s.
Fletcher had in fact known and coached Kirsten from even earlier, since his days in university cricket. In his autobiography Gazza: The Gary Kirsten Story, India’s World Cup winning coach writes glowingly of Fletcher, calling him his guru, the person who made him believe in himself.
“The greatest compliment I can pay Duncan was that he believed in me before I believed in myself, and he gave me the ability to believe in myself. He was such an inspiration,” Kirsten writes.
While Fletcher is known for turning England’s fortunes around in Test cricket, not many know the story of how the Zimbabwean cricketer-turned-businessman — he devised his country’s first car registration system — got into the trade of becoming a cricket coach, a vague, ill-defined role in the late 1980s.
“Duncan had faced a couple of extremely tough decisions in life. There were a couple of critical times when he needed to choose between coaching cricket professionally and staying in the business world. It’s easy to say now that he made a great career move, but at time he had to show great courage and faith in his ability,” Kirsten recalled in his book.
Fletcher’s first coaching job was at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, the campus where the young Kirsten was making a choice between rugby and cricket. It was Fletcher who nudged him to his choice.
“He was to become a huge influence on me for many years to come. Ironically, I started at Western Province before Duncan, so when he was eventually appointed as the provincial coach I was able to welcome him to the dressing room. Just a couple of years earlier he’d told me I could play for