Chris Silverwood is a promising young cricket coach. He may well go on to be a very good cricket coach (like Gary Kirsten or Graham Ford already are). However, nobody knows at this stage. He has only been the head coach of a professional cricket team for two years before now. Appointing him is therefore a massive and unnecessary gamble.
I outlined why Gary Kirsten (with someone like Chris Silverwood or Paul Collingwood assisting him when he’s on sabbatical) would’ve been my choice yesterday. Therefore I’m not going to bang exactly the same drum today. Instead I want to critique the ECB’s thinking in appointing him, and explain why I believe their thinking is flawed IF (and when it comes to the ECB it’s always a big IF) their publicly declared objectives really are their true objectives.
After England failed to win The Ashes on home soil for the first time since 2001, Ashley Giles, who has now botched the 3 main challenges he’s been presented with (the Alex Hales drugs dilemma, the Joe Clarke and Tom Kohler Cadmore problem, and now appointing a new head coach) claimed that improving the test team would be his priority.
Unfortunately, appointing Chris Silverwood is completely the wrong way to do this. In fact, appointing Silverwood suggests that the focus will very much remain white ball cricket. Here’s why …
When you appointing a coach who was already in situ, a bit like when the RFU appointed Andy Robinson to replace Sir Clive Woodward, the goal is surely continuity. Indeed, Giles has stressed how familiarity with England’s existing ‘systems’ (pass the sick bucket) was one of the main reasons why Silverwood got the job:
He is somebody we know well, but it is his intimate understanding of our structures and systems and his close relationships with Test captain Joe Root and white-ball captain Eoin Morgan that will help us develop our plans for the next few years.
When you appoint a continuity candidate you’re basically saying that you’d don’t want things to change. You’re on to a good thing and if it’s not broken why fix it? After all, there’s nothing the promoted assistant can say, or add to that magic elixir, that he wouldn’t have passed on to the players already during his time as assistant.
Now I may just be a humble blogger, and I’ve never played sport at a professional level, but you don’t need to be Richie Benaud to realise that the last thing the England test team needs right now is continuity. The ODI team, on the other hand …
The appointment of Silverwood makes no sense if the ECB are genuinely serious about improving our red ball fortunes. The big problem with the England test team is it’s batting unit. It’s no secret. The whole world knows it. We’ve been bowled out in less than a session four times in the space of two years and we’ve got possibly the weakest top 6 in the history of English cricket. So why would an competent governing body want to promote the existing bowling coach? How on earth is that going to improve the batting?
One of the reasons why everyone was so enthused about the potential appointment of Kirsten is that he might have taught our ailing batsmen a thing or two. He might have instilled the skills and mental approach required to dig in and compile big test match winning hundreds. Gary Kirsten scored played 101 tests, scored 7000 test runs, and made 21 centuries at an average of 45. Chris Silverwood played 6 tests, and scored 29 runs at an average of 7 (with a top score of 10).
The other reason why Chris Silverwood’s promotion smacks of white ball bias relates to the one perceived weakness in Gary Kirsten’s resume. When it comes to test cricket Kirsten’s CV is unblemished. He took South Africa to No.1 in the test rankings and his India team went unbeaten in eleven consecutive series. However, his record in white ball cricket isn’t quite as stellar.
Kirsten has enjoyed some success in global tournaments but also some disappointments – his India side won the World Cup in 2011 but his South Africa team lost all their Super 8 games in the T20 world cup, and he was recently sacked as head coach of IPL franchise Royal Challengers Bangalore. Consequently, if one was looking for reasons not to appoint him it might very well be this – although publicly this hasn’t been mentioned, of course.
According to reports Kirsten blew his chances of landing the England job for three reasons (a) he gave an underwhelming presentation at interview (whereas Silverwood’s presentation was excellent), (b) Kirsten wanted to spend more time with his family than England were willing to offer, and (c) Giles wanted to win favour with the counties by appointing an Englishman after the ECB appointed eight foreign Hundred coaches. I believe all three factors are complete red herrings.
As I argued yesterday, a coach’s ability with PowerPoint is about as relevant as a cook’s ability to write poetry. It basically doesn’t matter. And if I was a coach of Kirsten’s reputation I’d somewhat take offence (or at least be bored silly) at the prospect of presenting to cricketing pygmy’s like Tom Harrison and John Neal (who were the other two people in the room alongside Giles).
Top coaches like Kirsten are usually head hunted. They should not be asked to jump through unnecessary hoops just so prospective employers can tick boxes and pretend that they’re going through a thorough ‘process’.
Re: the argument that Kirsten wanted to spend too much time with his family, call me sceptical. Yes, it’s well known that Kirsten values his time at home, but this was supposed to have been sorted out before he flew over to England for talks. Indeed, it had been reported that Giles had already made sufficient concessions for Kirsten to be a goer; therefore it seems incredibly unlikely that they simply misunderstood each other when they’d previously spoken on the phone.
Kirsten has stressed the importance of family in every international coaching role he’s ever taken. It would’ve been the very first thing they thrashed out before Kirsten was added to any shortlist. Blaming his family commitments now, in what seems to be a desperate exercise in post-rationalisation, seems very strange to me.
Finally, when it comes to the counties, Giles should’ve had the strength to ignore them and simply appoint the best man for the job. Who cares, at this point, that the ECB was foolish enough to appoint eight foreigners to those lucrative Hundred franchises? That shouldn’t be Giles’s problem. The priority here is the England test team not the sensibilities of counties angry at someone else’s stupidity.
Meanwhile, if Harrison and Graves were leaning on Giles to appoint an Englishman (because of their previous error) he should’ve had the strength to tell them where to go. Why should the England test team suffer any more at the hands of the ludicrous Hundred gamble? Giles priority should be to improve the England test team not play politics.
Yes there will be supporters who disagree with every word above. They’ll say it’s exciting to finally have an English coach like Gareth Southgate. They’ll ignore the fact that Southgate had been a club manager for 3 seasons, had managed England U21s for a further 3 years, and had even had a successful stint as caretaker England boss before he was given the job permanently.
What’s more, the most successful cricket head coaches England have had in recent years have all been foreign: Duncan Fletcher, Andy Flower, and (in white ball) Trevor Bayliss. The most recent English coaches have been Peter Moores (twice), David Lloyd, and Ray Illingworth, none of whom impressed.
Yes it would be nice for England to appoint an English coach in an ideal world. But only when there’s a strong candidate available. Bob Woolmer, for example, would’ve been perfect back in the day. Unfortunately, however, such a candidate doesn’t currently exist. What’s more, I do not understand why Chris Silverwood was any more attractive to Giles than Paul Collingwood and Graham Thorpe (who at least have far more international experience as players).
Anyway, what’s done is done. We should all get behind Silverwood now and wish him all the best. Yes the thought process behind his appointment was all wrong, but since when does anything in English cricket make sense?
We’ve reached No.1 in the rankings and beaten Australia down under before despite the idiosyncratic manner in which our game is run; therefore we can surely do it again. We just have to hope that Chris Silverwood is the occasional shot in the dark that somehow pays off. It would make a nice change from shooting ourselves in the foot.
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