Duncan Fletcher; Behind The Shades
Author: Duncan Fletcher with Stephen James
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Rating: 3.5 stars
By Stuart Wark
11 Feb 2008
I must begin this review with an admission; for whatever reason I cannot stand Duncan Fletcher. I usually try not to make such judgments on people I have never met, and I'm sure Fletcher is a delightful and charming man in private. But his mannerisms and seeming insistence for taking all credit and no responsibility for English cricket in the past decade has always rubbed me up the wrong way. As such, I wasn't expecting much of this ghosted autobiography that I read on holidays. It had been roundly panned in some English papers for being a non-stop whinge, and this analysis fitted with my preconceived notion of Fletcher's personality. However, I found that the reality of the book was different to my initial impressions.
Fletcher details his early life growing up on a farm in Zimbabwe. His talent for sport was evident, but Fletcher reveals that he felt less skillful than his five brothers and sisters. It is perhaps this feeling of inadequacy that led to his determination to succeed in the face of more gifted athletes. Fletcher details his early cricketing experiences, leading to his captaincy of the Zimbabwean team in their debut one day international, and also their famous victory over the Australian side in the 1983 World Cup.
Fletcher went into coaching at the end of his playing days, and it was in coaching that he really made his name. He initially guided Western Province in South Africa and also Glamorgan in England to national titles. The co-author of the book, Stephen James, is a former associate from Glamorgan. Fletcher's success with these two domestic teams led to his appointment in 1999 as the coach of the English national team, a decision that surprised many off-field pundits. Whether it was due largely to his efforts, the culmination of many years work by previous coaches, or just simple luck, Fletcher's time as England coach saw them achieve some of their best Test results for decades. England's success reached a zenith with their win in the 2005 Ashes series.
The chapters in which Fletcher describes his time with both Glamorgan and England are very interesting. He details some of the conflicts and problems he experienced with different authority figures, and also with some of the players that he supported. Fletcher expresses some very forthright views on the way England cricket has been and still is run, and the roles that administrators play. There is, not surprisingly, a fair amount of space dedicated to the astonishing 2005 Ashes victory, but also to its unfortunate 2006/07 aftermath in Australia. Fletcher also provides some insight into the coaching side of cricket, and these parts were mostly well thought out.
Fletcher has presented a tough image to the world, but it would appear that he has been quite affected by what people think and write about him. In some ways, this autobiography has some of the appeal of a trashy Hollywood novel by Jackie Collins. Fletcher doesn't hold back with his views on certain people, and everyone who may have disrespected him in any way gets the treatment. There is undoubtedly an undercurrent of significant bitterness, which is a pity, but it does make for fascinating reading. The writing is considered and not over-the-top in style, but the intent is clear to all. Fletcher does display an annoying tendency towards the "Shane Warne / Ian Botham syndrome", in which it appears that everything is always someone else's fault, and that he is continually either misquoted or misrepresented.
I did not realize this initially, but this book was partially serialized in the British newspaper, The Daily Mail
. This fact would quite possibly account for the poor reviews that many competitor papers in the UK gave the book. A lot of the more controversial parts of the book (such as dropping Andrew Flintoff right into it) were evidently first seen in the Daily Mail. Not being a Daily Mail reader, I missed all of that, and as such, I read the book through with no previous exposure. And surprisingly, I liked it a lot. I wasn't expecting much, but in my view it was one of the best autobiographies released in 2007. The fact that the book covers a person's entire playing and coaching career, rather than being a premature review of a 23 year old flavour of the month newcomer, allowed it to be sufficiently detailed and remain interesting. Both Fletcher and the co-author James deserve credit for this effort. It is sensational in parts, and certain bits of self-absolution were quite irritating, but overall it is a recommended read.