Cricket used to be a top-down game where everything flowed from the captain. These days, the leader is only a cog in a Byzantine hierarchy like Joe Root discovers in the void around him – a space that urgently needs to be filled with a new coach, team director, chairman and possibly a new captain if Root did not pass the pattern with at least two of these appointments.
It is an extravagance of vacancies reminiscent of Oscar Wilde’s observations of losing parents: that one is unhappy, but two resemble carelessness. There could also be more if ECB chief executive Tom Harrison decides he’s had enough, after two trying years hit by Covid and criticism of The Hundred. Yet English cricket seems particularly chaotic and must immediately begin to take root with the appointment of a new chairman.
It is a role that must span a certain boundary. Twenty years ago, when television money first began to flow into the game (it had previously been a trickle), cricket was criticized for being run mainly by former players with no business acumen. Now that hundreds of millions of pounds are going through the books (at least with the ECB), the accusation is that no one involved anymore understands the cricket side of things or has the interest of the game at heart.
Both are valid criticisms, and one I will address by appointing Andrew Strauss President of the ECB, his credentials as a former captain with a degree in economics are impeccable.
Of course, Strauss is currently interim team director, a position he once held full-time but no longer wants due to a change in family relationships after his wife’s death. Being President of the ECB would not require the same hours as his previous job so he could be influenced. Even though he seems to be easily influenced by a snake oil salesman selling progress, whether with data or new formats, he still wants cricket to thrive at all levels.
With Strauss in place, the team director would be chosen as the next, and together they could then choose the coach. Potential candidates for the director role have thrown up names like Rob Key, Tom Moody and Marcus North, the last two former Aussie Test players. If they have anything in common, it is that they are all talking a good game.
There was a time when English cricket slavishly sought Australian know-how, but I’m not sure the wish has passed. Therefore, I think it is unlikely that Justin Langer, who has been tipped by some to become England’s next head coach, will get that job. Langer was a fine, brave player, but if the current Australian team felt his coaching style was too intense, he would not fit in well with England, despite calls from some that they need tough love.
Modern gamers just do not respond to old-school rigor with their (often shouted) one-way conversations, especially when things go wrong. They demand a relationship with their coach based on mutual respect and clear, calm advice. They are high maintenance and the best coaches like Gary Kirsten, another associated with the England job, realize this and work with it, applying just the right amount of firm touch.
The order of the ECB’s appointments is crucial, and once all three are in place, a new captain can be chosen, or not, depending on how worthy the team director and coach view Root’s desire to continue in the job.
Following his team’s miserable defeat to the West Indies in Grenada, a result that places England solidly at the bottom of the Test Championship, Root has strengthened his commitment to continue as captain, leading to a howl of criticism. But what did the critics expect then? Durable qualities are what make him such a fine batsman and, it seems, an unwavering captain.
If it is decided that Root is not the man to lead the test team, other candidates are thin on the ground, a legacy of England’s lack of succession planning. One is Stuart Broad, omitted from the recent tour of the Caribbean with James Anderson.
Broad, 35, has a decent cricket brain, but there may be a sense that he has aired his complaints over recent elections, flawed as many were, far too easy to now suddenly be elected as leader.
Ben Stokes, 30, is another option for the Test captain and has the advantage of always being on England’s best team. But he struggles to revive past glories, and the captaincy can prevent that. On the other hand, it can give him the extra push, great talents that he needs to fire up in the final stages of their careers.
But whoever gets chosen, in each of the roles, they need to squirt some fun back into cricket, something lost in these gloomy times with Covid. In fact, I would say it was a priority.
MCG Memorial an appropriate broadcast for Warney
Shane Warne impressed MCG during his playing days, so it was fitting that the venue yesterday said goodbye to him with a memorial service that no other cricketer will ever experience.
Family, friends, teammates, opponents and a galaxy of stars from music and showbiz were packed to pay tribute to Warne, who died earlier this month.
Most touching were the shelves from Warne’s three children, Brooke, Jackson and Summer, who then opened the Shane Warne Stand. Appropriately enough, for such a great talent, it is the world’s biggest stand in cricket.
For someone who brought entertainment and a sense of fun to cricket, Warney would have loved the occasion, mixing humor, pathos and some lovely anecdotes about a man who is determined to live each day to the maximum.
Although his wrist spin was pretty perfect, he admitted to being a flawed human being. Tough, competitive, but generous, a sporting ideal, if ever there has been.
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