Player power vs the iron fist
India's humiliation at the hands of England is complete and as expected the dust won't settle in India for a long time after the mystique of this so-called invincible Indian team vanished without so much as a whimper from their band of superstars. At the end of the day the players are in the main responsible for winning and losing but in this instance the coaching philosophy of the two different camps had a major role to play.
The England coach Andy Flower has a no-nonsense approach. He runs the England team with an iron fist. He sets high standards for the individuals and the team collectively. When Flower took over the England team from Peter Moores, they were not in a good place. The team was divided after the sacking of Kevin Petersen as captain and Moores as coach. Flower at the time was the assistant coach.
One of the most impressive aspects of Flower's reign so far is the physical condition of the England team. This is the best I have seen England in terms of fitness. Their conditioning coach is doing a great job. The fast bowlers are strong and the rest of the team look in superb condition. The body fat percentage of the players is spot on. This doesn't happen without good old-fashioned hard work.
A tough conditioning program also assists the mental toughness of the players. This is as important as the fitness standards themselves. The players who push themselves through the pain barrier in this respect normally come through under pressure in a match situation. This was very evident in the past series.
The other two areas that Flower gave a lot of attention to were the technical side of the game and the mental approach. The England players are technically very good at the moment in all three disciplines of the game. Due to their superior fitness and technical expertise, they have become used to winning, which has made them mentally strong and ruthless in their pursuit of excellence.
In contrast, where does India stand? The answer is nowhere, I am afraid. There is a strong suggestion in India that Duncan Fletcher was appointed on the advice of Gary Kirsten. There is also a considered opinion that Fletcher was appointed with the proviso that he continued with "the Kirsten way" which, as has been well publicised, involved allowing the senior players and superstars to run the show and do their own thing.
The consequence of this is that in the three disciplines mentioned above, the Indian players are totally inadequate. Their fitness condition is abysmal. Their technique for English conditions is in the main poor, and their mental approach and self belief is at an all-time low.
Where does this leave Duncan Fletcher? The answer is between a rock and a hard place. If he agreed to go with the Kirsten approach, he can't change now. The situation is crying out for more control and a firm hand. If he does flex his muscles, the players won't like it and it is unclear whether the board will sanction a different approach.
South Africa's top players convene shortly at a golf resort for their first training camp under the new regime. Hopefully golf will be the furthest thing from the players' minds. I am sure we will find a new Kirsten way with this group of players.
South African players respond to hard work and discipline. That is why South African sport has always competed well. Hopefully this philosophy will apply. We have seen the consequences in times gone by when player power was allowed to rule the roost.
Let's get back to the true South African way.