Something that’s flown beneath the radar in recent days is how much the surprising decision to appoint Chris Silverwood is also a vote of confidence in Joe Root. We’ve heard how well Silverwood gets on with Root, and how strong the chemistry is between them, so one assumes that getting more out of the skipper is one of the reasons why ‘the silver fox’ (as he shall henceforth be known) got the nod.
I thought that Michael Vaughan’s article on Silverwood’s appointment was particular interesting – especially as Vaughan is a fellow Yorkshireman (well, kind of) and knows both men personally:
Perhaps he is the style of coach that is better suited to working with Joe Root … Maybe the reason they have gone with Silverwood is because Root needs a coach who will manage the team. Joe is not the kind of captain who runs the whole ship like Eoin Morgan does the one day team. He needs more help and I think Silverwood will bring a hands on approach.
This is really encouraging to hear if true. We all know that Bayliss was rather ‘hands off’ and relaxed, so perhaps this appointment might change the dynamic between captain and coach even if it won’t change the failing team culture culture overall.
So what else do we know about Silverwood? For starters he’s popular with all the players. We’ve often seen him joking with them on camera, and there seems to be a genuine warmth. Consequently I expect him to be a nurturing and supportive presence rather than a distant disciplinarian who resorts to hairdryer treatments when plans go awry (like plans to bat longer than a session).
However, the question is whether this style of coach is what England’s test team needs right now? It’s difficult to tell from the outside but many, including myself, might wonder whether another ‘friendly uncle’ type head coach is warranted. After all, a disciplinarian might have been just the tonic to remedy what is an ill disciplined batting line up.
As fans we get very frustrated at the team’s poor short selection and inability to dig in, and sometimes it’s cathartic to imagine the players getting a good roasting after a dismal collapse. However, in the words of Wisden’s editor Phil Walker, maybe “coaches today tend to be avuncular listeners rather than alpha frontmen” for a reason.
It’s interesting to ponder whether the days of demonstrative coaches with authoritative personalities are over. I know this often applies to football, where players have egos bigger than the stadiums they play in, and they’re worth so much money that it’s sometimes easier for clubs to get rid of the manager than the star player they’ve fallen out with, but it remains to be seen whether cricket is becoming the same.
Appointing a coach that gets on well with Root could therefore be seen as something of a gamble rather than a slam-dunk. And one’s perspective might well depend on whether you think Joe Root is the right man to lead England now and in the future.
If we return to Michael Vaughan’s words above, it’s a little alarming to read that Root “needs a coach who will manage the team” and that he isn’t capable of running the whole ship like Eoin Morgan. It’s worth remembering that many of England’s test players also play in the ODI side; therefore they’ll have seen how Morgan goes about things and will naturally make comparisons with Joe. If Root’s leadership is weaker then this can only impact the test team negatively.
If Root really is a weak laissez faire leader then one might wonder whether it’s right to pick a coach on the basis that he’ll mask the skipper’s inadequacies. Instead it would make more sense simply to remove the captain, appoint a better one who can actually lead, and then look for the best coach in his own right.
What’s more, appointing a coach who is chums with the captain will only entrench perceptions that the England team is far too chummy all round. Selecting a continuity candidate as coach, who is close to the players, could be seen as Giles burying his head in the sand and refusing to admit that the dressing room culture needs to change.
The one fact we’re overlooking, however, is whether Silverwood can get more out of Root as a batsman. As a former specialist fast bowling coach he won’t be able to suggest many technical improvements, but he might well increase our star man’s productivity by making him feel more confident and comfortable in his own skin.
If Root can start making big hundreds again then this could boost the team just as much as any cultural change. It will also boost Root’s authority within the dressing room if he’s seen to be leading from the front rather than making pretty but ultimately ineffectual fifties.
It’s no secret that Root’s personal struggles with the bat reflect those of his team in general. Two years ago he averaged over 50 in test cricket. But his average since becoming captain in 2017 barely reaches 40. What’s more, his performances are getting worse: he averages in the low thirties since the beginning of last summer. If he was merely a specialist batsman (in any other era) then his place in the side might be in jeopardy.
Given our dismal defeat in the West Indies earlier this year, our failure to win The Ashes on home soil, and the negative impact the captaincy has had on his batting, many wondered whether Joe Root might want to step down as test captain at the end of this summer. And if he didn’t step down would he be pushed?
The appointment of Chris Silverwood puts this issue to bed (at least for now). It’s a big vote of confidence in both Joe Root’s tenure and the team culture that’s developed over the last two years.
However, until England start winning test matches again, and until Root remembers how to score centuries, it certainly won’t stop the debate and the doubts.
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