Continued turmoil means English cricket is no longer the global model
Where should countries aspiring to develop and develop the game of cricket look for an administrative model on which to base their efforts? Currently, the answer is unlikely to be the England and Wales Cricket Board.
On April 15, the resignation of the captain of the national test team was added to the vacant positions of president, general manager and head coach of men’s cricket.
The former chairman resigned on October 7, 2021, after just thirteen months in office, while the head coach, batting coach and director of cricket lost their posts following a disastrous performance in Australia . Acting former captain and manager of cricket between May 2015 and October 2018, Sir Andrew Strauss, was appointed manager of the men’s team on February 2, 2022.
Strauss was previously appointed in September 2019 to chair the ECB’s cricket committee, which is tasked with ensuring there is a thriving professional game at the heart of the sport. As part of this mission, he launched a review of the role and structure of the domestic game which some observers believe is not producing players capable of becoming successful international cricketers. His clear call is that the ECB should not be afraid to be “ambitious, bold and radical”.
It’s a view that was made clear by captain Joe Root before he chose to step down, having previously reiterated his desire to continue a reign that has seen him captain a record sixty – four matches. The reason for this can only be speculated. Rumors about the identity of the new general manager and coach have been circulating for days and have reportedly been narrowed down to two candidates. One is an Australian seen as having done a great job in a struggling county but on April 13 withdrew his interest, citing family reasons. The other candidate, Rob Key, whose appointment was announced on April 18, served as a broadcaster after retiring from professional cricket in 2015.
In his role as cricket pundit, Key has criticized ‘negativity’ in the Root captaincy in recent months, a difficult position from which to build a lasting and harmonious working relationship. The new Strauss-Key power base seems determined to shake up English cricket and the latest rumors that Strauss may be on the way to becoming the new ECB president will further cement their axis. They have a very full and pressing receiving bin. Decisions must be made as to who the new captain will be – the options are extremely limited – and new coaches must be identified, recommended and appointed. There are six weeks until the next test match against New Zealand on June 2.
It is a dire situation that the ECB has allowed to envelop English cricket. It has been building for some time. In 2015, following a poor World Cup campaign, the ECB shifted its focus to white-ball cricket, which led to the ultimate success of the 2019 World Cup. Test-level performance has been inconsistent and the new management team that was appointed in 2019 seemed to prioritize, almost obsessively, the 2021-22 Australia Ashes series in its planning. The decision to have a coach for both long and short forms of cricket, coupled with the decision not to have selectors, thus placing full responsibility for team selection on the coach, presumably with input from the captain, was not a successful experience. .
Prior to his appointment, Key was an official supporter of the separation of limited overs practice and test match cricket. He also said the next head coach is unlikely to be English. In a way, this is an indictment of the quality of English coaches operating in English domestic cricket. Alternatively, such an approach means that the net can be disseminated more widely. For the past twenty years, the most successful coaches of England’s men’s team have not been British.
Whether any of them want to fill the job is another matter, as there are a number of other attractive, short-term opportunities available to those in demand.
It is perhaps no coincidence that England’s management structure and performance crumbled while COVID-19 wreaked havoc with cricket and cricketers. In forced bio-bubbles for long periods of time, it can be easy for a bunker mentality to develop. However, this scenario has affected all international teams and players. Thus, in seeking reasons to explain England’s particular difficulties, attention is turned to the structure of its national game.
A simple analysis of England’s Test cricket performance reveals a bowling attack that has been based on the longevity of two of the best bowlers ever produced by the English system, who some now blame for stunting the development of young talent. The new leadership of the ECB seems to agree. English courts, which favor medium-paced bowlers who can use seam to move the ball, are accused of inhibiting the development of high-level spinners, while a cut-and-change policy vis-à-vis screw their selection is useless. It’s in the batting department that there is a glaring shortcoming. Apart from the former captain and his vice-captain, who are among the best players of their generation, no top hitter has managed to perform consistently or convincingly at Test level. Switching between different formats is given as an explanation, but players from other countries do not have this problem.
This is just one of the puzzles that the new leaders of the ECB must tackle and solve. English cricket, like that of other countries, goes through cycles of success and despair. However, the leadership void that has developed and is being filled is hardly a model for those seeking guidance from cricket’s ancestral home.