Who will replace the Dark Lord?


Speculation is moving so quickly that this post will probably be out of date before I even hit ‘publish’.

If we’re going to look at who will become the new, and inaugural, director of England cricket – and in effect succeed Paul Downton – we need to start with first principles.

Players win cricket matches. Not coaches, managers or executives. End of. Many of England’s recent problems stem directly from over-management, which has taken too much responsibility and autonomy away from the eleven men on the field. The only person who should specifically have extra authority is the captain.

No executive director can be a panacea for all ills, nor wave a magic wand. But they can easily make a dreadful mess, as Downton proved. So what should their brief be?

There are two distinct options. The first is what’s traditionally been the case – a hands-off role. If so, the director’s responsibilities are to appoint the coaches and selectors, play a part in choosing the captain, oversee the coaching system, plan for the future, and integrate young players, but generally keep out of the way. The job is best done – can only be done – unglamorously and unobtrusively.

Alternatively, the position is utterly hands-on, which means changing the whole set-up, so the director is also chair of selectors and not only makes the majority of the big coaching calls but becomes the motivator and cheerleader-in-chief. In turn this could only involve downsizing the Peter Moores role to purely technical responsibilities.

Either way, it has to be one thing or the other, without confusion or overlap, or chaos will ensue. Paul Downton was hired as a hands-off administrator, but his ego led him to blur the boundaries – interfering with selection meetings, sacking players – which further destabilised an already sclerotic framework.

If as expected the ECB appoint a high-profile ex-player to replace Downton, it can only work if they go the whole hog – the second option – and create a genuine supremo. You can’t have a glitzy England hero with a chest full of medals in charge of the setup without him inevitably overpowering everyone else.

If you were to write a list of organisations who specialise in logical decision making, the ECB might not be the very first name to spring to mind. But all the rumours point to a big-name appointment, so let’s be positive and assume Tom Harrison will give the new man the authority he’ll need for the plan to work. Otherwise, we’ll be better off with a professional sports administrator.

My heart says Michael Vaughan. He was a wonderful and mostly selfless England captain with an instinctive feel for man-management, and remains an astute judge of dressing-room dynamics. Vaughan would be the definitive breath of fresh air – an often staunch ECB critic who for the most part understands why things have gone so disastrously wrong during the last two years.

He will demand independence, and – probably – refuse to kowtow to ECB politics. He has plenty of other fish to fry, which means he needs the job less than they need him – and can be his own man.

Andrew Strauss ticks many of the same boxes, but seems like a retrograde step, and is too close to too many players still around the squad, True, Vaughan played with Cook, Bell, Broad, and Anderson – but less often and much less recently, and the bonds are weaker. If there’s one lesson above all to be learned from the last eighteen months, it’s the corrosive effect of cliques, prejudice and favouritism – even if only perceived.

Strauss is from The Right Sort Of Family. He is the establishment figure par excellence, but while his ECB cufflinks and nice clean fingernails shouldn’t be held against him…well, he just doesn’t feel quite right, somehow.

Nasser Hussain? He achieved an enormous amount as England captain, but was abrasive, headstrong, and emotional – unsuitable qualities for a managerial role whose subtleties demand a more relaxed and detached personality. Anyway, he already appears to have ruled himself out.

Alec Stewart is a plausible and attractive candidate. Unladen with lucrative media commitments, he’s the one name on the list who’d unambiguously want the job. Strangely ‘outside cricket’ for a man of such military-style orthodoxy – in one of cricket’s less studied scandals, he was sacked as England captain in 1999 for trying to get his players a better pay deal – he would bring a change of perspective and philosophy. Does he have, though, the natural clout and authority to reform and co-ordinate a complex organism?

The nightmare scenario is of course Andy Flower, but surely that’s a step too recherché even for the ECB. Flower’s time has passed, even in the eyes of his most faithful supporters. Tom Harrison would not have sacked Paul Downton purely to wind back the clock.

Perhaps I’m naive – in spite of everything – but just maybe the winds of change are finally beginning to rattle Old Father Time. With them – and symbolised by the ECB’s choice of team director – must come the recognition of the need for a paradigm shift: an end to the culture of jobs-for-the-boys.

Time and again, when an important role needs filling, the board simply ring up one of their old mates, probably after Giles Clarke bumped into them on the golf course. The ECB only employ people who inhabit their own spiritual biosphere. Smartly pressed blazer? Won’t frighten the horses? When can you start? No relevant experience or demonstrable competence, or out of touch with the modern game? Don’t worry, you can just muddle along.

It’s the equivalent of getting your friend who DJs weddings to headline Glastonbury. And it’s this mentality which landed us with Downton in the first place. He’d worked in a bank for twenty years – a job entirely irrelevant to managing cricketers – but was a Good Sort Of Chap.

Downton in turn hired Peter Moores, the only man in world cricket who’d already been fired from exactly the same position five years previously. Moores was appointed partly on the recommendation of the ECB’s Head of Elite Coach Development – that well-known giant of international cricket, Gordon Lord. No, me neither.

The chair of selectors is a vital role. You’d think the responsibility was best entrusted to a cricketer of extensive international experience, perhaps a former captain. The last three chairs have been David Graveney (0 England caps), Geoff Miller, (34 caps) and James Whitaker (1 cap).

Whitaker is the most egregious example of what happens when you hand out sinecures on the basis of obedience and affability, not solid credentials. He’s got virtually every important selection decision wrong, and can barely string a sentence together during interviews, even when he remembers to turn his phone off.

Whitaker must be put out of our misery. The Daily Telegraph expected him to be fired this morning. So far, no joy, but if the new team director does indeed take charge of selection, Whitaker’s role will be scrapped anyway. So here’s hoping.

Let’s return, however, to the man of the moment. Unsurprisingly, Downton’s downfall has been met with sympathy in some quarters of the press, who’ve portrayed him as the brave, unlucky fall-guy who became a victim of circumstances – and the scapegoat for World Cup failure.

Everything Downton did – or failed to do – was his own responsibility. No one made him dismiss Pietersen. There was no urgent crisis to resolve, no cause to take such drastic action at that specific moment, no Jeremy Clarkson-style punch-up.

No one made Downton appoint Peter Moores. No one coerced Downton into using Alastair Cook as a heatshield – retaining him as ODI captain until the last moment and then sacking him at the wrong one. Absolutely no one forced Downton to break confidentiality agreements. He and he alone bungled, dissembled and connived.

When first appointed, Downton arrived at his desk equipped only with a half-baked notion of ‘team’, a vague idea that English cricket should emulate New Zealand’s rugby All-Blacks, and the lazy prejudices of the golf-club bar-bore. Those prejudices played directly into the hands of Andy Flower, whose cooked-up tale of woe (itself a bizarre product of tantrums and espionage) confirmed the impression Downton had formed of Pietersen while flicking through the Daily Telegraph in his City office.

The rest is history, but the backlash caught Downton entirely by surprise. His response was to weave a pathetically transparent web of convoluted distortion and deceit. Beneath the ungrammatical waffling about disengagement and disinterest, the only ‘evidence’ he could lamely offer was an account of Pietersen looking slightly bored at fine leg in one test match.

To disgruntled supporters, Downton presented a case which was both insulting and ridiculous. This ensured that the Pietersen row – despite the ECB’s most fervent hopes – would never disperse.

To make matters worse, Downton also told a number of lies. These included his claim that he’d found no support for Pietersen among senior management, where in fact both Ashley Giles and David Saker had made public statements to the opposite effect during the very weeks in question.

Most of the press have attributed Downton’s dismissal to England’s failure in the World Cup. But plenty of England bosses have endured poor World Cups and survived. Surely, he was sacked as much for Pietersen as anything else. I hope – and strongly suspect – that new chief executive Tom Harrison, as an outsider, saw the entire affair in the way we did ourselves.

Did he conclude not only that Downton’s calumnies were irredeemable, but that English cricket could never ‘reconnect’ with its public until the wrongdoing of the Pietersen affair had been in some measure redressed?

Ultimately, Downton became not the fall-guy for a losing team but the scapegoat for his own grievous misconduct. The fact that the man who sacked Pietersen has now himself been sacked is as close to an admission that ‘we were wrong’ as we will ever get.


  • The Dark Lord is still there…until FlowerPotman goes, nothing can or will improve, it’s why the supposed applicants for the post (Vaughan/Stewart, whoever) will not sign up until 1. the job description is confirmed, 2. the ballast weighing us down is cast overboard (in order – Flower, Whitless (and his underlings), MooresThePityful (sooner/later – probably irrelevant in the long-term) and Cook as captain (urgent)

    • I agree with you Bogfather. Andy Flower is the real Dark Lord in this whole affair, closely followed by Giles Clarke. A little ditty would be welcome. :-)

  • Curious the number of writers making a big deal out of Vaughan’s potential conflicts of interest who had seemed exceedingly relaxed about previous conflicts of interest, like national selectors who are also county coaches – or writers who write about their mates.

    • Mike Selvey wrote a risible article when defending his mate Angus Fraser’s conflict of interest.

    • Did you see piece by Brenkley? Nasty Mr Vaughan has too many fingers in too many pies so won’t get the job? Unlike Mr Strauss who has gone around quietly putting his hat into the ring. Such a fine man!!! Ruddy hells bells that man is writing some appalling stuff. He seems to be suggesting that Vaughan shouldn’t get anywhere near the top of the tree due to having to live with a massive reduction in salary? Where does this bozo get this stuff? I think Brenkley, Selvey and Pringle are no longer receiving their inside gossip and now having to make up even more stuff. The Huey, Lewey and Dewey of the Cricket World.

      Flower must go!
      Whittaker, Fraser & Newell must go!
      Strauss definitely not right man for job.

      Not sure about Alec Stewart – my ol’ man says he is probably “too safe”. But I would rather have Alec than Strauss.

      I should though like to see Vaughan get the job. Although Dobell says that the only person Vaughan cares about is Vaughan. Now that did shock me a bit have to say!

      Head coach with known qualities. Ought to see if we can get Allan Donald as bowling coach as he is now free. He did a good job last time he coached our players.

      Of course Kirsten would be my first choice for England Coach. ECB lags saying there is no money in the pot to pay for such a coach. Hmm. I thought the reason Clarke was so applauded was because of his lucrative money deals? Couldn’t have been as good as the usual suspects told us then?

      Good to have you back Maxie.

  • I would love it if Nasser got the job, purely for the fact he wouldn’t take any nonsense if he approached like he did when he was captain. But then I imagine his Sky job pays him quite nicely for a lot less aggravation so I don’t blame him for ruling himself out.

    Vaughan would be a good choice, I would like to see what he could to change things. But please not Strauss, we need less people who promote a cliquey atmosphere, not more.

  • Cook would be relieved of the captaincy in no time should Vaughan take the job. Joe Root will conclude the Yorkshire Ascendancy. People don’t like Vaughan because he’s a bit bumptious, not quite ‘our sort of chap’. He’s a bit Joe Lampton for the blue blazer/red trouser brigade, hence their preference for the establishment man.

    • My view is that Root, while he might make a very fine captain one day, is way too brash and immature at this point in his career. Assuming Cook is gone, as is overwhelmingly probable at some point this summer, then it would be a grave error to go to Root as replacement.

  • OK let me be outrageous. How about about Mike Hesson who’s done some wonderful things with New Zealand and doesn’t mind changing captains even if it’s controversial.

  • Alec Stewart, for me. He’s his own man and won’t be bullied. Definitely not Strauss, too recent a player, too close to some in the team, and lacks vision. Nasser Hussain I love, but I think he’s in the best job, for him and for cricket, at Sky- it just needs the England setup to listen to him more.
    Not sure about Vaughan, he was a good captain and he’s big on player responsibility, but he’s also a bit two-faced and changeable, see above.

    Just as long as it’s not Flower.

  • This is extraordinary (and confirms everything we’ve been banging on about) –
    “The board members are also understood to have joked about Clarke’s behaviour at the Wisden dinner the previous night, at which the outgoing ECB chairman became enraged by the guest speaker and former ICC president Ehsan Mani, who claimed more should be done to protect Test cricket.

    Clarke, who was central to last year’s restructure at the ICC that saw India, England and Australia take control, angrily remonstrated with Mani after the dinner in the Long Room at Lord’s, with the Wisden editor, Lawrence Booth, telling him to calm down and behave…”

      • George Dobell’s latest is mainly about Downton’s replacement:


        He also has this to say about Giles Clarke at the Wisden dinner:

        “On Wednesday, Clarke provided a reminder of his abrasive nature by storming out of the dinner to celebrate the launch of the 2015 Wisden Almanack. Clarke took exception to a speech by former ICC president, Ehsan Mani and then became embroiled in a robust exchange of views with Wisden’s editor, Lawrence Booth, after onlookers suggested Clarke’s behaviour fell somewhat below the standards expected of a guest at such an event. Yet the ECB continues to view Clarke as an asset”.

      • Clarke is truely one of the worst things in English crixket, he is a disgrace. The ECB is just showing its true colours by its actions over this dinner bust up.. Any member of the ECB should act better as they are supposed to be representing is!! No one wants him, get rid

        • Seriously, are we actually discussing a professional sporting organisation here?

          Gee whizz, from the outside looking in, this has got to be the most comical set up I have had to witness.

          This joke reminds me of watching an episode of Cheers!

          I hope they keep the show going, in fact how about Tuffers for the new role?

          Now we need a woman involved, Dawn French will be perfect don’t you think? Even better, she can bring her cast from Vicar of Dibley.

          John Cleese as Chairman, naturally.

    • Ehsan Mani deserves considerable credit for repeatedly criticizing the Big Three and the effects of their takeover.

      As for Clarke, I will say nothing because the last time I spoke of that man, James had to interject. :-)

    • Now there’s a thought. Definitely some merit to it. Although I think England may need KP back in their playing XI before too long…

  • Michael Vaughan would be a very poor choice for me.

    1. He has no relevant experience beyond his playing days. It would be redolent of the RFU appointing Martin Johnson. There is ZERO acccountability with the media work he’s been doing – make a decision today, change your mind tomorrow and it’s quickly forgotten. It doesn’t work like that when the bullets are live. A very important principle for me is that the national team should be a meritocracy featuring the best of the best. How can Vaughan possibly satisfy that criterion?

    2. The conflict of interest issue makes his candidacy completely untenable on its own, in my opinion.

    3. While he’s obviously a very popular ex-captain, and in one sense it would be a great appointment in terms of building bridges with the fans, I would strongly suspect that he would have to build bridges with many coaches and professionals in the game who (from what I’ve been told) do not hold him in high regard.

    4. If the wish is for the role to be very hands-on, surely the role needs someone who has a track record of working well in a hands-on capacity?

    Alec Stewart seems to me better qualified, with more relevant experience (although not sure about his business interests – vaguely recall him having a similar deal to Vaughan somewhere along the line).

    Graham Gooch? You’d struggle to find someone with more experience.

    • Gooch took the blood soaked Rand in the 80’s and in my opinion is disqualified from any role in any reputable organisation ever again.

      So I guess the ECB would again be his only option.

    • It’s hard to know who the right man for the job is until we know what the job actually involves. However, I stopped listening to Vaughan after this performance on Channel 9 prior to the Perth Test in the last Ashes series.

      “So Michael, if you were in charge of English cricket what would you do to turn things around?”

      “I’d pick Tymal Mills and fight fire with fire”

      I don’t think Vaughan was serious but rather he says controversial things in order to get attention (can’t walk past a fire without throwing petrol on it)

  • Good article, personal (and very much personal) opinion, would be that Stewart Should get the job. I respect Vaughan and no doubt a great captain, but the current crop can’t (or most likely won’t) listen to him, whereas You cannot go without respecting the Guv’nor. He would also be better at dealing with the ‘ECB agenda’ in a way I don’t think Vaughan could.

    Just my opinion….but to throw it out there

    • ya if not vaughn stewie is the best bet, he is somewhat of a middle line between vaughn and strauss, as in he is sort of like captain america but doesnt becomes scout boyish like straus or cook.

    • You don’t think he’s cut from the same cloth as his dad? He was hardly an inspiring captain.

  • Only Just Heard about RB, Australia and the rest of the World is so much Poorer!

    “Goodbye Maxie, Goodbye James, Goodbye Everyone!”

    RIP Richie.

  • Richie Benaud gone. A very sad day for me. He kindly gave me his autograph when I was a boy.

    Best leg spinner in his day. Best Australian captain I ever saw. Best TV commentator and one of the best cricket writers. Rest in peace Sir.

  • I think much of the criticism of KP has been way too personal and there was far too much glee when he was sacked. Now many people seem to be treating Downton the same way. From what I could see he did a shit job and deserved to be sacked. However, George Dobell who, unlike most of us, has met Downton describes him as a good man out of his depth. How about we just leave it at that and stop pissing on the man’s grave? (You can, however, say what you want about Giles Clarke – I am nothing if not a hypocrite)

    Incidentally, can you be a “scapegoat for” you own “grievous misconduct”?

  • Has anyone even mentioned the name of Atherton. Possibly the best cricket brain out of the lot of them. Well respected, great views and hard as nails. Ticks every box for me.

  • The only way to find the cause of the ECB’s problems is to is to find out who made the decisions, and why:

    1) Who decided Downton was the right man for MD?
    2) Who decided to promote Flower and Clarke upwards instead of sacking them?
    3) Who appointed Moores?
    4) Who allowed Downton to have a say in selection decisions, when that was clearly beyond his remit?
    5) Who decided to keep Cook as captain in 2014, when it was clear to everyone he was shot?
    6) Who allowed Whitaker and Downton to sack KP for non-cricketing reasons, knowing that the public would be outraged, and that ticket revenues would subsequently fall?
    7) What incentive did whoever made these decisions have to make them?


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