The Weekend Read: Duncan Fletcher – Behind The Shades

Every Friday we’ll be picking a classic cricket book that has been reviewed in TWC to help you pass the weekend. Make your recommendations in the comments below.

What is it?
Behind The Shades by Duncan Fletcher (Simon & Schuster, 364pp, £7.99)

What’s it all about then?
The former England Coach’s controversial autobiography.

What did we give it?
4/5

What did we say?
Critics? Don’t even ignore ’em. Thus spoke Sam Goldwyn and long before the end of Duncan Fletcher’s aggrieved autobiography there was a feeling that the former England coach, for his own sake, would have done well to heed the legendary Hollywood producer’s advice.

In at least one post-publication interview Fletcher has hinted that he regrets the extent to which the book settles scores but anyone reading it will be delighted that he has refused to hold back. Easy-going man takes criticism in his stride does not good copy make. Pumped-up man confronts Henry Blofeld in a restaurant and is told to eff-off in return is the kind of juicy material that a typically bland sporting memoir will simply not accommodate.

What really caused a stir is Fletcher’s so-called “betrayal” of Andrew Flintoff in recounting an incident during the one-day series that followed England’s Ashes debacle last winter in which the England captain turned up for practice too drunk to take part.

Should Fletcher have exposed Flintoff to the world, even now that his ties with England are cut? Limited though my sympathy for Flintoff is, my feeling is probably no. It is the job of us hacks to dish the dirt, not insiders or such new ex-insiders. Nor is its inclusion justified by the pedalo incident in the World Cup that followed.

Reading about Flintoff’s drunkenness in the context of the rest of the book, it seems pretty obvious why Fletcher could not resist having his say – and that is Freddie’s choice of drinking companion. The man with whom Fletcher says Flintoff had been up all night boozing was, surprise, surprise, Ian Botham, whose tendency to pour scorn on Fletcher never failed to rile him. Indeed, it is hard to think of two personalities less likely to be in harmony than the cerebral, rather uptight coach and the boorish roisterer.

It is not just Botham who gets up Fletcher’s nose. Neither Geoff Boycott nor Sunil Gavaskar exactly endeared themselves to him. The ICC gets it in the neck and pretty much the entire media corps is dismissed for its repeated failure to look at what Fletcher calls “the facts”. Fletcher loves detail – in a previous life he helped develop the Rhodesian/Zimbabwean number-plate system – but reveals that he is even prouder of a financial document he redesigned for a medical aid society. But his recourse to a statistic to prove a point can be a failure to see the bigger picture.

The trouble is that Fletcher cannot bear to lose an argument and he clearly found it impossible not to read what the pundits were saying. To turn one’s back on them takes a lot of strength and as an outsider in the English game – perhaps looking for reassurance and acceptance, certainly sensitive to any sign of being undervalued – Fletcher may not have had quite enough of it. But let us not forget that this is the man who masterminded England’s 2005 Ashes victory and for that alone he deserves his place in the pantheon.
Simon O’Hagan, January 2008

What did they say?
‘In this always fascinating book Fletcher emerges fully into the open for the first time. It is soon obvious that he was far more thin-skinned than anybody realised. Throughout his seven years as coach Fletcher was forced to take constant incoming fire from critics in the media and elsewhere. The England coach seems to have remembered and stored up every single insult. Much of the pleasure of reading this book is the spectacle of Fletcher’s long-delayed revenge.’ Peter Oborne, The Spectator

Someone must have hated it?
‘But something jars. The book lives up to its title – we are certainly given an insight into a previously mysterious man – but it has an underlying seam of bitterness and resentment which, for someone who has achieved so much, is a disappointment and a little sad. Chapters are sprinkled with insistences that the reader “must understand”; that the media twisted his words and cheated the truth; that he is right and everyone else is wrong. If he never cared about the media during his tenure, why bother now?’
Will Luke (who still gave it 4/5), Cricinfo.com

Why not tell us what your favourite cricket book is, or which book you’d like to see in ‘The weekend read’ in the comments below …

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