Where Do England Go From Here?

Today new writer Sean Higgins goes where our regular writers have so far feared to tread. That’s right folks, it’s time for the start of our Ashes post-mortem…

Another embarrassing defeat down under, whilst crushingly disappointing, could not have come as a surprise to even the most loyal of England supporters. After a heavy loss then it is natural to point fingers at the coach, captain, selection, lack of preparation, county cricket, Covid bubbles, and even England’s crammed cricket calendar. All are worthy of sensible analysis, of course, and an independent review into the first class set up and the demands placed upon international cricketers may have some merit.

However, some of these issues have been around for a while and England have still managed to win test matches. When there is a period of failure and poor results over a prolonged period then it is right to critically appraise the leadership of the group. What’s clear is that there was paradigm shift in the Head Coach’s approach when Chris Silverwood took over from Trevor Bayliss.

Whereas Bayliss wanted batters with positive intent who put pressure back on the bowlers, Silverwood said at the start of his tenure that  “One thing we’ll look at is building a batting group that can bat long periods of time, stack the runs up and put pressure on the opposition. It sounds old‑fashioned but we’ve got to recognise that.”

This change of emphasis altered the DNA of England’s test team. Using up deliveries became of paramount importance even if the scoreboard was going nowhere. Joe Root was aligned with this policy according to Chris Silverwood. The new coach also openly declared right from the outset that re-gaining the Ashes was his goal.

However, the perception that England should begin planning to beat Australia by adopting such a conservative approach is puzzling. Ask any of the former players who have won the Ashes in Australia about the blueprint for success and they will tell you that its starts with attitude; in other words, take the game to Australia and try to dominate. 

The selection of opening batters obsessed with crease occupation was flawed and the results consistently demonstrated that. The unorthodox techniques of Burns and Sibley, who were the incumbents for a long period leading up the Ashes, compounded the problem. Replacing Sibley with Hameed merely created another issue. Whilst his technique looked more solid, he was another cloned stone-wall blocker but with a fragile demeanour that should have been obvious would not stand up to the harsh realities of an Ashes series. The Coach’s “vision” was therefore blurred. 

Unfortunately, this determination to bat for long periods of time appeared to muddle the minds of the middle order, particularly two of our most gifted young batsmen in Crawley and Pope. To see their soft dismissals was as disappointing to see as anything else. It smacked of indecision and a lack of confidence in their ability to put Australia under pressure. They are two talented players who will hopefully score many runs for England. They have more chance of doing so in an environment that harnesses and encourages their self-expression as attack-minded batters.

With the Ashes surrendered so meekly, Australians look at our cricket team with derision. It’s not a nice feeling. England revolutionised their one day game with an overhaul of their methods and, in Trevor Bayliss, had a Coach who indoctrinated a fearless approach.

Of course, it is easier to introduce that attitude into white ball cricket but the principle still holds true. England’s cricket needs to change and that has to start with the leaders. Chris Silverwood is a fine man but his strategy has failed consistently and it’s time for a re-set. Joe Root is the best batsmen we have but despite his admirable desire to carry on, relieving him of the captaincy could well see him take his game to another level with his best years still to come. Instead, I would give the captaincy to a fighter like Jonny Bairstow who has been messed around appallingly over the past few years. He wants the gloves so give them to him and bat him at seven where has tasted much success. The Buttler experiment must end.

As for the new coach, we need someone with experience and technical knowhow – someone who has played at the highest level, exudes confidence, and has the ability to lift others. Maybe it’s a utopian dream to imagine that there is one person who embodies all these characteristics but the underlying message is clear. It’s time for another paradigm shift.

Sean Higgins


  • What would Bairstow bring that Buttler hasn’t? Neither of them are worthy to keep wicket as almost everyone knows that Foakes is so much better. His batting is not that bad either; he’s scored a test hundred in8 matches whereas Buttler has 2 in 50+. Bairstow has 7 in 80 matches. If England are going to improve I really don’t think it will happen by keep going back to those who have failed previously. There needs to be an overhaul of the set up at the top level and a comprehensive review of the system of picking the best players. Unfortunately, there isn’t a long queue at present waiting to dislodge the ones in situ.

    • Did you miss Bairstow just scoring the only century of the tour? And he scored a century on the previous Ashes’ tour despite a crackpot strategy of batting him at No.7 where he repeatedly got stranded with a crumbly tail.

      • BTW Foakes has been poorly handled – but let’s see him against a quality pace attack and not against useless SL spinners before imagining he’s some sort of magic bullet solution.

  • Sorry, but I found this ‘analysis’ very superficial and it doesn’t even begin to address the key issues which go way beyond Bairstow and Buttler. The best analyses I have seen/heard are the post Hobart pieces one with a visibly frustrated David Gower and one with Mike Atherton (both now on YouTube) together with Atherton’s piece in the Times. As for Agnew’s suggestion that we start with more 100 franchises……..words fail me, and that’s even before I get to Harrison’s lament about the demise of red ball cricket, written as if he’s been a bystander rather than its chief architect.

    • To be fair we looked at all the systemic stuff during the series. I’ve published this because we haven’t really talked about culture or on-field approaches yet. I’m hoping to find time over the weekend to give my own thoughts on what needs to be done. This will address the broader stuff, although some of it will be repeating what I’ve said previously. I’m going to try and bring it all together.

      • Fair points, James : I did not intend to be critical and have found the discussions here interesting (Tom excepted !) even if the subject matter has generally been depressing (although not unexpected !). In relation to your planned article I do recommend the Gower and Atherton pieces I mentioned.

      • I’ve been talking about culture along.

        You guys prefer to blame the administrators because it’s easier and makes you feel better.

        If you need further proof that England have a cultural problem, give me a list of English coaches who should be considred to replace Silverwood.

        Instead, it’ll likely be Kirsten, but you’ve got some English commentators barring up over the prospect of getting Ponting or Langer.

        Why aren’t there outstanding English coaches in the mix? Why do you think that’s the case? It’s culture. When will the penny drop for you guys?

    • Agnew was also clinging to the idea that Australia “aren’t much better” than England, despite Australia having five guys averaging 40+ at Test level to England’s one. And that’s before we even talking about the fact that England got worked over the likes of Head, Green, Khawaja, Boland and Richardson, all basically fringe players at the start of the series.

      There’s a gulf in quality at the top end and in depth.

  • Yes I agree with some of this, but despite Silverwoods supposed good intentions, he has failed miserably with team selection and even the basics of reading pitch conditions. I mean you have two bowlers with over 1100 test wickets between them and neither played in ideal seam bowling conditions at Brisbane. You also can’t have the head coach as sole selector: it’s like Boris appointing a civil servant to review the parties; she is highly unlikely to criticise her boss. Indeed the review of this catrosphe is being carried out by Harrison, Giles and Silverwood who are all largely responsible for the mess that is English Cricket. A complete independent enquiry is needed into the governance of the game with firm recommendations for change, starting with the diabolical ECB.
    And as much as I feel sorry for Root he simply has to step down because nothing will change with playing the old guard and that includes another poor wicket keeper in Bairstow.

    • Marking each others’ homework as they themselves have put it.

      P.S. Please leave out the politics.

      • Your nerve–and hypocrisy–in suggesting that someone else leave out the politics from their post is quite breathtaking, Simon!

        It’s also nonsensical–you agree with the point and then object to an example of exactly that point.

  • The tour was a monumental clusterf*** with causes both very long-term and more immediate, no single article is going to cover them all. Any coach would have lost with that hand – but some wouldn’t have lost as badly and Silverwood should lose his job for that while not being made the only one to carry the can.

    Silverwood seems to have lucked out as a CC coach. Basically he got the best spinner on the circuit, something that had nothing to do with him. Essex’s strategy hasn’t needed to be much more than – put Harmer on a one end, rotate the seamers at the other, if we don’t win ask Simon why not. It didn’t require much coaching.

    Given a tougher hand, Silverwood’s limitations have become clear and he’s got many major decisions wrong. Hameed was recalled too early. They got the Gabba pitch badly wrong because they judged it from history rather than the immediate conditions in the run-up to the game. This tendency to go with plans cooked up ages ago rather than what’s right in front of you is something some of us have been warning about for years.

    However of all that Silverwood’s got wrong, I find the one the writer chooses to focus on extremely bizarre. The young batsmen are confused between instructions to bat time and their natural inclination to be more attacking? (At least that’s what I think he’s saying). Pope has been way too frenetic at the crease and he chucked away his one good start with a hook shot – how does that fit into the thesis? Crawley didn’t fail and hardly showed he was under instructions to grind it out. Does anyone really think they’d have done better under Bayliss? Indeed England didn’t do better under Bayliss so one doesn’t exactly have to guess. When England lose it seems nostalgia for a captain/coach who won becomes the knee-jerk response.

    On a slightly different tack, and not meant as an excuse, it should be noted India lost to a very weak SA side. Winning away from home has become ridiculously difficult and there’s very little will to do much about it.

    • Teams can’t win away?

      India won in Australia a year ago. India and NZ both won in England.

      SA winning against India simply underlines the difference in culture between SA and England.

  • Until our batsmen learn to restrain their white ball inclinations, play straight and let the ball come to them rather than go hard at it we will struggle to make significant scores as we won’t be spending enough time at the crease. Edges that would probably be safe in white ball go to hand in red and with bowlers bowling for wickets rather than looking to contain it’s literally a totally different ball game.
    An interesting TMS with I think Aggers suggested that the county championship should adopt the structure of the Hundred, so 18 teams become 10 with players recruited in IPL style by auction. Thus the pool of players is reduced to up the general competitive level, with less matches but of a higher standard.
    I can’t help feeling that playing around with yet more gimmicky ideas is missing the point. It’s not rocket science to see where the problems lie, but it’s the will of those in charge to prioritise in a way that can address these issues that has to be questioned, given the recent directions the game has been taking. I fear we’ll still be talking about the same shortcomings this time next year.

      • Head played 2 fine knocks, but both were white ball innings. No one doubts his abilities in that format. He rode his luck and fair play to him, but it’s a lot easier to play that way when you’re team’s on top. Put him in against a moving ball and he won’t last long before he gives chances. He goes hard at the ball, the same as so many of our batsmen.

        • Are you having a laugh?

          Head was man of the series and the leading scorer, despite missing a Test.

          Your pre-series claim that his selection boded well for England blew up spectacularly, but you’re still trying to defend it?

          Just take it on the chin, champion.

          • No I’m not having a laugh, I’m watching the action, live. Are you trying to say that knock he played in the last test was a classic test innings. What match were you watching? He came out from the start and gave it the long handle.
            I’m not defending our abject performances, but every time anyone comes back with a counter argument you just dismiss it out of hand. It’s getting boring. Australia are clearly way better than us at the moment in every department, especially in Oz but against a moving ball in England it would be a lot closer.
            The fact that Head is leading scorer in the series despite missing a test doesn’t say much for your top order either, who haven’t exactly set the world on fire this series. The lower order have wagged consistently to give you the 400 scores.
            I do agree about your culture comment though. OZ are far closer to the USA in having that desire to win that dominates everything else. Losing and being competitive is never going to be part of the Aussie mentality whatever the state of any game over there.

  • An interesting article. Personally I can’t see beyond Root as captain until another viable option emerges. I was appalled by Agnew’s hairbrained idea about franchise first class cricket. I found that prospect more depressing than the ashes defeat. As for Harrison talking about rebalancing domestic cricket…words fail me. Except expletives…I have plenty of them for him.

  • Surprised you rate Hameed’s techmique. I mean perhaps it is ok in England, but before he arrived he was regarded down here as a likely walking wicket on bouncing decks due to his low hands.

    In the end though it seems the issues are.
    1. County cricket being marginalised by whiteball and dominated by trundlers who have an easy time due to ball and wickets.
    2. Longer term Narrow player base. Not played or even available to be watched by the majority of the public. private educated test cricketers are an exceprion in Australia not the rule. A large amount of Australian cricket is on free to air includimg all home tests and Ashes in UK plus sdturation bbl.

      • It’s almost like there’s a cultural difference that underpins Australia’s superiority.

        Imagine that.

    • There was a talented Lancashire opener from the 70’s called Barry Wood who had the same low hands problem as Hameed. It blighted his England career abroad. Hameed clearly tried to alter his technique this series by standing up straighter, but this caused him to lunge at the ball which made him even more vulnerable.
      I remember Brearley refusing to alter Dilley’s run up after his dragging foot was perceived to be a problem on the harder Aussie wickets and as a result Dilley had a decent amount of success out there. Unfortunately there’s no one with Brearley’s resolve and self belief in the present England set up to resist the temptation to tinker. A sign of the times me thinks.

  • The England top order are technically poor and soft. Zac Crawley is the only player with a test standard game.
    Bairstow should bat at 5 and selected as a batsman only.
    Surely James Vince should have been in consideration for a game, he is better than Burns, Hameed, And Sibley.
    The results from poor decision making must be addressed and those held responsible be held accountable.
    England showed a lack of fight and pride during the series, selections, plans, execution were all rubbish
    As a Aussie I can’t wait for the next series, I doubt your Ecb would have fixed anything.

    • “Test standard game” to me means that you score runs at test level….by which measure Burns is a considerably more test standard batter than either Crawley or Vince, who are the very definition of flattering to deceive.

      And, in Crawley’s case, it’s hardly surprising given that he averages 31 at f-c level…Mo Bobat’s absurd arguments about that notwithstanding!

  • One myth that’s being built up is “Root and Silverwood ruined Archer by over-bowling him”. This goes back largely to the match in NZ when Watling scored a double century and Archer bowled 42 overs.

    I’d point out the following:
    1) The mistake was probably playing Archer at all on a pitch that didn’t suit his type of bowling and thus goes into a long run of Silverwood/Root misreading pitches.
    2) Wagner and Southee bowled more overs in that match than Archer.
    3) Archer and England could have saved themselves the workload by bowling NZ out.
    4) One reason Archer bowled the most overs of any England seamer was the others were all being protected in some way – Broad because of his age, Curran because of his fragility, Stokes because he always seems to be carrying some sort of undisclosed injury. If the side is bent out of shape to protect some then others will carry a greater burden. Someone has to bowl the overs!
    5) The fundamental problem is Archer’s technique – he gets his pace by hyper-extending his elbow. It was always going to break down sooner or later. England’s phalanx of coaches couldn’t detect this just as they took six years to work out that if Mark Wood would lengthen his run it would take some of the stress off his ankle. All they seem able to do is coach every English bowler out of a sideways-on action because they believe it will lead to back injuries – but they get back injuries anyway plus how do they explain bowlers from Fred Trueman to Kapil Dev?

    As for the absence of Archer and the Ashes, the pitches in the series weren’t especially quick and all of them offered help to English-type seamers (because of El Nino apparently – there is an onservable record of England doing well in Australia during times of that climate event and damper Australian summers). This was one of the worst things about the series – England got as favourable conditions as they are going to get and still weren’t remotely competitive.

  • The players need some guidance at the top. They’re getting too much of what they want despite abject performances. It’s not all their fault of course, but until they start to get some red ball time at the crease it’s difficult to see any change and we’ll still be talking about the same issues this time next year.
    They or those in charge have to make a decision about balancing the taking up lucrative contracts to play IPL and the like and concentrating on building test match application and technique. It’s tough and you may lose some players in the process, but what you’re left with will have signed up to comply with contractual obligations. They’ll need to be some sort of compensation, but it’s clear too much high profile cricket is being played at the moment and there’s no time to rediscover loss of form or fitness before the next international series. There’s more to professional sport than chasing the cash cow, always a short sighted option. You can throw money at the game until the cows come home, but if it’s not directed to improving standards what’s the point. Let’s get shot of the marketing men and replace them with proper cricketing people.

  • The answer in reality – to another white ball series and the chance to beat up some weak opposition and worship some more at the altar of Eoin Morgan.

    England play a mere 5 T20 series totalling 21 matches this year in addition to IPL and T20 WC demands. The ECB dream of winning the latter and bragging about the unification of white ball trophies. It’s all they’ve cared about for two years, whatever they say to the contrary.

    A winning, attractive T20 and an awful Test team will shift a lot of fan allegiances, they hope.

    • What’s your evidence that he “had to” clarify what he said? And does it show anyway that “the battle of 2014”–of which Ali wasn’t really a part–is exerting a dead weight over English cricket or over you?!

  • Marc Evans come on mate, Travis Head came to the wicket with Australia 3 for 16 and took on the bowlers on a green wicket.

    It was a test quality innings, all white ball matches are played on roads. The pitches this ashes series were bowler friendly, a massive difference from the roads that have become a standard in Australia recently.

    Yes Head didn’t leave 60 deliveries or block 50 deliveries.
    He backed himself and played to his strengths
    Something Stokes should have done
    Obviously Head’s mindset was to be aggressive and take on the opposition.
    Something that England only do in white ball cricket.


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