I wonder if Ashley Giles voted leave or remain? I normally stay clear of politics – and you won’t read anything remotely partisan in this article – but the assertion that the ECB’s managing director always wanted to appoint an English England cricket coach does make one wonder.
I bring this up because the debate surrounding Chris Silverwood’s somewhat controversial appointment has confused me. I had expected the debate to focus on England’s batting woes in test cricket – it’s the test team, after all, that Giles claimed he wanted to improve – but instead many observers are focusing on the nebulous and cheesy concept of team ‘culture’ plus some stuff about Silverwood’s nationality.
Tim Wigmore’s article in today’s Telegraph probably articulates these twin red herrings best. It’s a good article, as far as optimistic pieces welcoming a new coach go (Tim is an excellent sports writer), but I can’t help but roll my eyes slightly when I hear ECB employees espouse sentiments like this:
Giles has persistently emphasised the importance of culture since he took over as director of England men’s cricket. Silverwood is regarded as a safe custodian of the values that Giles wants England to embody – playing tough cricket on the field, but also being the most respected side in the world and a team with integrity on and off the field.
We’ve heard so much talk of culture over the last few years and it’s mostly hot air. Andrew Strauss always rabbitted endlessly about culture and it seems as though Ashley Giles is following him like the proverbial sheep. Perhaps Gilo thinks it makes him sound clever or progressive? Or maybe he just hasn’t got any ideas, or perhaps I should say cliches, of his own.
The problem, of course, is that the strong team culture England have apparently developed over the last few years has done sod all for the test team. It’s worked for the ODI team – although it almost led to the omission of Jofra Archer at one point – but ‘teamwork’ (in a game of individuals), and ‘systems’ (which suggests that cricket is some kind of accountancy software) hasn’t stopped England from being bowled out in under a session four times in the last two years.
Where was this famous team culture when Ireland rolled us over for 85 at Lord’s this summer? Where were the much heralded systems and processes when New Zealand knocked us over for 58; or when the West Indies sent us packing for 77; or when Australia had their way with us at Leeds and we could only post 67? How exactly is culture going to improve what is possibly the worst England test batting line up of all time – especially as Thorpe and Collingwood are set to continue in their respective roles?
Apparently, however, it matters not that England will be adding absolutely zero batting expertise to the coaching staff now that Silverwood is England cricket coach because – and I do hope Nigel Farage is reading this – Silverwood is English! Horray! Let’s all evoke the spirit of Aston, Blake, (Cuthbert) Collingwood, Drake, Effingham, Frobisher, and Grenville. That’ll put some runs on the board. We might even make triple figures this time.
As someone who isn’t particularly patriotic I find the fixation with appointing home grown coaches bizarre. I’d take Sven Goran Eriksson over Sam Allardyce every day of the week. I’d take Eddie Jones over Stuart Lancaster too. But I’d also take Jimmy Anderson over Dougie Bollinger. For me nationality is irrelevant. It’s all about picking the best man for the job. The rest is just political excreta.
I find it very strange, therefore, that so many supporters are welcoming the appointment of an inexperienced English bowling coach when what was desperately needed was a batting guru (of any nationality). Here’s more from Tim Wigmore:
England have been lambasted for the complete absence of any English head coaches in the men’s Hundred competition. This paucity of English coaches is nothing new … Giles has declared elevating more English coaches to be a priority. Given the first chance, he has been as good as his word. And so it is not only all England supporters who will wish Silverwood well in the years ahead; it is also the next generation of England coaches. For, should Silverwood succeed, he will make English coaches more attractive the world over.
Of course I understand that it’s preferable for England to produce good coaches. And I understand that some people will always prefer the England cricket coach to be English. But to be honest I’d rather just produce a credible test batting line up at this stage. The latter is surely more of a pressing concern.
The bottom line is that Gary Kirsten (or perhaps even Graham Ford who also has the added benefit of knowing county cricket as well as most) had the requisite experience and expertise to improve our batting performances. All Chris Silverwood promises is continuity and the reemphasising of a team culture that cannot possibly address the position of Jason Roy’s hands, the gap between Jonny Bairstow’s bat and pad, or Jos Buttler’s inability to score test hundreds.
Whereas many will see, for some intangible reason, that Silverwood’s nationality is an advantage, I see it as a distinct disadvantage. We keep hearing that Silverwood’s knowledge of county cricket can only be a good thing. But why? It’s not his job to pick the players. That’s up to the most quintessentially English Englishman of them all, Ed Smith.
What’s more, the great challenge our test team has faced, and continues to face, is winning abroad. That’s the mark of a quality test side. Having a head coach whose coaching experience is limited to good old Blighty (other than a quick stint in Zimbabwe) means there will be a something of a knowledge vacuum when England tour places like Australia and particularly Asia.
Although Trevor Bayliss’s record as England cricket coach was very mixed – another reason why a continuity candidate made no sense whatsoever – he did manage to win in Sri Lanka. This is partly because Bayliss is a former head coach of Sri Lanka who knew the conditions there inside out. Where, exactly, is Chris Silverwood’s experience going to help unless it’s a cloudy morning at Headlingley or Trent Bridge?
Now Ashley Giles is no fool. He can’t be a fool because he’s played ECB politics very cleverly over the years. He’s kept his head down, kept quiet when he thought he was treated unfairly, and he’s finally managed to land a job that’s even better than the one he’s craved his whole career. Consequently he can’t be oblivious to the compelling arguments above.
And that is why, with some nervousness and a facetious sense of humour, I asked whether Ashley Giles voted leave or remain in the 2016 referendum. Because nationality, and English jobs for English cricket coaches, has suddenly trumped all other considerations and I don’t understand why.
Let’s revitalise the great British cricket coaching industry folks. Let’s stop those foreign coaches from stealing our jobs. And most of all, in the words of the great populist from yonder, let’s make English cricket great again.
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