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Roll up! Roll up! The hunt is on for a new head coaches for the England men’s cricket teams. Gary Kirsten, Graham Ford, Simon Katich… Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting – heck maybe even that Aussie guy the Spin saw get ejected from Edgbaston in the early noughties for throwing cooking apples into the crowd while dressed as an alpine milkmaid – will no doubt be polishing up their CVs and swotting up on their ECB values as we speak.
They’ll need to clear the diary for the interviews on May 9 and 10, that’s when it’ll be tracksuits off, suits on and shoulder yokes down for the stroll into Lord’s with their plans for “setting out and then executing short-, medium- and long-term plans for the development of the England team ”.
Sheesh. Talk about a heavy load.
The candidates thinking of throwing their peaked cap in the ring for the England gig might want to have a look into the somewhat turbulent history of the role before they do so, the job is the soufflé of the cricketing world, seemingly simple yet difficult to execute , vulnerable to collapse (s) and more often than not ending in disappointment and failure.
Mickey Stewart became the first cricket manager in the mid-80s. Stewart was tasked with the job of bringing “organization, preparation and discipline” to the England side after years of defeat, ill-discipline and even drug-taking allegations. His tenure lasted six years and is largely deemed a success, despite a fractious relationship with David Gower and the rebel tour of South Africa happening on his watch. Those who played under Stewart praised his man-management, tactics and planning. Graham Gooch later wrote in his autobiography that Stewart was “an anchor for England.” The following decades would see the waters get much choppier.
Keith Fletcher, the Gnome of Essex, succeeded Stewart for a three-year reign between 1992 and 1995, a period in which the side went down in five of the seven series they played. In 26 Tests they lost 15, drew six and won a paltry five.
Fletcher’s years “running” the side coincided with Ray Illingworth becoming increasingly more powerful as chair of selectors. The no-nonsense former captain of England and Yorkshire ended up with a power of veto over new captain Michael Atherton and he was not afraid to use it, even on the eve of a Test match. Illingworth had a tendency to brief against the team and criticize them in the press, his outspoken and power-monopolizing ways soon saw to the end of Fletcher. Illingworth simply swallowed up the team manager role like a basking shark hoovering up plankton.
Predictably, it didn’t end well. Illingworth was seen as out of step with the modern game, after further fallouts with the captain and players (he memorably called Graeme Hick “soft-centred” as a result of a “molly coddled upbringing”) Illingworth quit after England’s disastrous showing in the 1996 World Cup.
David Lloyd took over in 1996, an enthusiastic, popular and fatherly figure who backed his players to the hilt: Lloyd had a strong rapport with his captain, Atherton, a fellow Lancastrian. Bumble’s passion could sometimes bubble over, resulting in high-profile gaffes such as the “We flippin ‘murdered’ em” line he delivered after a frustrating drawn Test in Bulawayo against Zimbabwe in 1996. Fallouts with the ECB suits saw the lugubriously vowelled and anecdote -laden Lloyd head for the commentary box. England’s timid group stage exit of their own 1999 World Cup was his final coda as coach, though he had handed in his notice before it began, meaning Alec Stewart’s captaincy was then kiboshed in the blood-letting afterwards.
After a summer in which England slipped to the bottom of the Test rankings and new captain Hussain was booed by his own fans after defeat to New Zealand at the Oval, Duncan Fletcher took over, becoming the first overseas head coach. Fletcher reaped the rewards of central contracts and forged strong relationships with his captains, Hussain and Vaughan (but not Flintoff) and created a senior leadership group within the team to impart his message. The Zimbabwean was a meticulous technician (the forward press, anyone?) As well as an astute reader of the game.
Forever be-shaded with a perennial blank frown like a polar bear with a migraine, Fletcher was memorably inexpressive on the team balcony whether England were sliding to defeat, squeaking to a win or if Ricky Ponting was giving him a mouthful of expletives. He will forever be remembered for masterminding the 2005 Ashes win even though his legacy was tarnished significantly in the following years, eventually bowing out on the back of an overseas Ashes whitewash and a haphazard, Fredalo-ed 2007 World Cup campaign.
Enter Peter Moores, the only man to have held the position twice, with both of his tenures ending in lamentable circumstances. New captain Kevin Pietersen torpedoed both his own and Moores’s jobs in 2009. KP bristled at Moores’ lack of international experience as a player and his “intense” methods of coaching, calling Moores “the woodpecker” and falling out with him on matters from training to selection. The tag of Moores being an obsessed analysis and stats-driven coach proved to be his undoing in his second stint. After England’s creakingly outmoded style of play led to an embarrassing exit from the 2015 World Cup Moores was misquoted as saying that “he’d have to check the data” with regards to the reasons for England’s early exit. Moores is said to have heard about his second exit from the role (after Test defeat to West Indies) through his wife who was scrolling on Twitter.
In between Moores’ stints Andy Flower took the job and England, with the help of captain Andrew Strauss, to No 1 in the Test rankings, a feat they achieved in the third Test of the 2011 home series against India, who were coached at the time by Flower’s countryman and predecessor, Duncan Fletcher. A first global tournament win, holy grail and hen’s teeth overseas victories in Australia and India were high points in an unprecedented period of success. Flower was gnarly and uncompromising, qualities that cost him in the end, brick-lifting Bavarian training camps are all well and good if the team are winning but the 2013-14 Ashes whitewash finished him off.
From 2012-14 the job was split for the first time by red and white-ball formats. After a perceived power struggle between Ashley Giles and the more powerful Flower, the “experiment” was deemed a failure when England were left with orange yolk on their face after 2014 T20 World Cup defeat at the hands of the Netherlands.
Trevor Bayliss was hired as a sort of Aussie Mr Miyagi “wax on, take a heavy load off” kind of coach in 2015. Suspicions surrounding his laidback and white-ball focused approach abounded but Bayliss is one of the few in the role to have gone out on his own terms, a drawn (but unregained) Ashes and World Cup win under his arm, along with a Yukka plant and CD of whale noises. Bayliss spent time afterwards as an estate agent, perhaps just to fill up his cup of disdain and ill-will before sliding into another top-level tracksuit and going again.
Chris Silverwood, the latest head coach casualty, could have been forgiven for dreaming of a career as a traffic warden as the team bottomed out in the latest Ashes debacle. But a matter of weeks after his sacking he became coach of Sri Lanka instead.
What does all this tell us? Well, it rarely ends well for England’s head coach. It doesn’t take long before perceived weaknesses are sniffed out and seized on. Too weak, too stern, too laid back, too intense, too emotional, too sullen, too strict, not strict enough, obsessed with training / data / analysis, not concerned enough with training / data / analysis. Too attacking, too defensive… They meddle too much! They’re too hands off! What do they even do?
Those who get the roles will have to do it in their own way, and good luck to them. Look out for the press, the fans, the players, the suits and the opposition. If they don’t get you first then the job will, in the end. It almost always does.