There are those who are distinctly underwhelmed by the elevation of Chris Silverwood to England’s head coach. They complain of a cosy, internal appointment and those accustomed to the glitz of the football world pine for a household name, an immediately recognisable heavy hitter, with a mouthwatering CV, some smart suits and the ability to deliver spicy soundbites.
But in cricket it does not always work out like that. Look at New Zealand, World Cup finalists in 2019 and habitual overachievers. Who is their coach? Do not feel embarrassed. I’m an expert (supposedly) and I have just had to take to Google. The answer is Gary Stead, who played five Tests in 1999. He succeeded Mike Hesson in 2018 (Mike who?).
Silverwood played six Tests and seven ODIs for England between 1996 and 2002 with modest success, which was six Tests and seven ODIs more than his predecessor, Trevor Bayliss. It is not essential to be a great international cricketer to be a great coach. The outstanding players of the past are more inclined to head for the less demanding, more lucrative posts available in the short-form game. TV welcomes their recognisable presence in the dugout while the coaches themselves are spared the burden of all those months on the road.
Franchise coaching has been Gary Kirsten’s lot for the past six years and he flirted with a return to Test cricket with England. But in the wake of Silverwood’s appointment one wonders whether Ashley Giles was convinced the South African was still prepared for the demands of a national coach, despite his success with India and South Africa. Taking charge of an international team must be a wonderful challenge but it is also a hard grind; it is not for the dilettante.
Silverwood’s greatest supporters may come for the English coaching fraternity. Perhaps he can prove that an Englishman can oversee the England team effectively. The most successful ones have come from afar: Duncan Fletcher, Andy Flower and Bayliss. The players and Giles know roughly what to expect from Silverwood. There can be advantages in an internal appointment.
He deserves his chance and in the days after his appointment he has spoken impressively about his plans. He is not quite so laid-back as Bayliss but he is more likely to be a calm supporter of the players rather than a constant cajoler in the mould of England’s last home-grown coach, Peter Moores.
The coach’s relationship with the captain, Joe Root, is always critical and here the signs are good. “Joe’s got to decide where he wants to bat and we’ve got to support him in that,” Silverwood said. “If he goes back down to No 4 that’s absolutely fine by me. Once that decision is made then we look at what we need to put around him to fulfil the strategy of batting long periods of time.”
Whether Silverwood’s relationship with the other Yorkshireman in the mix, Jonny Bairstow, is so easy is debatable (Silverwood sat in on the selection meeting for the tour to New Zealand after which Bairstow was omitted from the Test squad).
He acknowledges that Jos Buttler is the first-choice wicketkeeper at the moment “because he’s coming out with us ... But equally I don’t want to rule anybody out. Jonny’s a fine player and I can’t see why he couldn’t come back into the frame for South Africa.”
There has been the mischievous suggestion that Simon Harmer, capped five times by South Africa, who has been an integral part of the success of Essex that began with Silverwood taking over as coach at Chelmsford, might be drafted in. Silverwood smiled. “He’s not English-qualified is he? That’s it, done. It’s amazing how much interest his offer to come and bowl at us in the nets created.”
The question of selection on tour, which was a source of some debate in the Caribbean last winter, was raised. Should the coach and the captain be left to it? Silverwood was decisively noncommittal. “That’s certainly a conversation that’s coming. Yes, it’s in the pipeline is that one.”
What was his view? “You’ll have to wait and see . You’ll find out.”
We will find out a lot about Silverwood over the winter as he takes on the lead coaching role and those despairing at such a seemingly low-key, anonymous appointment may yet be impressed.