Where should countries which aspire to develop and grow 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 existing vacancies for chair, managing director and head coach of men’s cricket.
The previous chair resigned on Oct. 7, 2021, after only thirteen months in post, whilst the head coach, batting coach and director of cricket lost their positions in the wake of a disastrous performance in Australia. As an interim move, former captain and director of cricket between May 2015 and October 2018, Sir Andrew Strauss, was appointed director of the men’s team on Feb. 2, 2022.
Strauss had previously been appointed in September 2019 as chair of the ECB’s Cricket Committee which has a brief to help ensure that there is a thriving professional game at the heart of the sport. Within this remit, he has set in motion a review into the role and structure of the domestic game which, in the opinion of some observers, is not producing players capable of becoming successful international cricketers. His clarion call is that the ECB should not be afraid of being “ambitious, bold and radical.”
This is a view that was expressed clearly by the captain, Joe Root, before he chose to resign, 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 upon. Rumors about the identity of the new managing director and coach have been circulating for days, reportedly being narrowed down to two candidates. One is an Australian considered to have done a top job at an ailing county but, on April 13, he withdrew his interest, citing family reasons. The other candidate, Rob Key, whose appointment was announced on April 18, has been a broadcaster following his retirement from professional cricket in 2015.
In his role as a cricket pundit, Key has been critical of “negativity” in Root’s captaincy in recent months, a difficult stance from which to establish a sustainable and harmonious working relationship. The new Strauss-Key power base looks to be determined to shake up English cricket and the latest rumours that Strauss may be in line to become the new ECB chair will further cement their axis. They have a very full and pressing in-tray. Decisions need to be made about who the new captain will be — the options are extremely limited — and new coaches need to be identified, recommended and appointed. There are six weeks before the next test match against New Zealand on June 2.
This is a dire situation that the ECB has allowed to envelop English cricket. It has been building up for some time. In 2015, in the wake of a poor World Cup campaign, the ECB placed a focus on white ball cricket, which led to ultimate success in the 2019 World Cup. Throughout this time, performance at test level was inconsistent and the new management team which was appointed in 2019 seemed to prioritize, almost obsessively, the Ashes series in Australia 2021-22 in its planning. The decision to have one coach for both long and short forms of cricket, coupled with the decision to not have any selectors, thus placing the whole responsibility for team selection onto the coach, presumably with input from the captain, has not been a successful experiment.
Prior to his appointment, Key is on record as an advocate of splitting the coaching of limited overs and Test match cricket. He has also said that the next head coach is unlikely to be English. In one 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 spread more widely. In the last twenty years, the most successful coaches of the English men’s team have been non-British.
Whether any of them will want to take on the job is another question, as there are a number of other attractive, shorter-term opportunities available for those in demand.
It may be no coincidence that England’s management structure and performance has fallen apart during the time that COVID-19 has been wreaking havoc with cricket and cricketers. Within enforced bio-bubbles for lengthy periods of time, it can be easy for a bunker mentality to develop. However, this scenario has affected all international teams and players so, in searching for reasons to explain England’s particular difficulties, attention is being turned onto the structure of its domestic game.
A simple analysis of England’s Test cricket performances reveals a bowling attack that has been based upon the longevity of two of the finest bowlers ever produced by the English system, whom some are now blaming for stunting the development of younger talent. The new ECB management appear to be of this view. English pitches, which favor medium-pace bowlers able to use the seam to make the ball move around, are blamed for inhibiting the development of top-class spinners, whilst a chop and change policy towards their selection is unhelpful. It is in the batting department where a stark deficiency exists. Apart from the erstwhile captain and his vice-captain, who are amongst the finest players of their generation, no top-order batter has managed to perform consistently or convincingly at Test level. Switching between different formats is given as one explanation, yet players in other countries do not have that problem.
This is just one of the conundrums which the new ECB leaders need to address and resolve. English cricket, like that in other countries, moves through cycles of success and despair. However, the leadership vacuum that developed and is now being filled, is hardly a blueprint for those looking for guidance from the ancestral home of cricket.