Moores or less? Peter has some convincing to do
The England coach has been in the job for 18 months but has faded so much into the background he is hardly visible. Some think the team is lacking leadership and more poor results in India will put Moores under considerable pressure
Thursday 11 December 2008
It would be premature to suggest that the knives are out for Peter Moores but he might care to begin checking if anybody nearby has something sharp, other than a tongue, concealed about their person.
These are troubled times for Moores as coach of England's cricket team. The next fortnight in India will provide a severe examination of his credentials to continue in the job to which he was appointed 18 months ago.
In the past five days he has had to prepare a team who are short of practice, not utterly convinced that they ought to be there, were hammered in the recent one-day series and who are playing perhaps the best side in the world.
Nor is that all. By the end of the two-match Test series, which has the real possibility that it would be in front of more security personnel than spectators, Moores must present a plausible case that his relationship with the team's captain, Kevin Pietersen, can work. The evidence so far is inconclusive – Pietersen and Moores are not natural bedfellows.
The rare, nay unprecedented, combination of events since the captaincy changed hands four months ago has made Pietersen's team. Six successive victories against South Africa provided Pietersen with a bedrock of influence and, on the eve of England's winter engagements he left no doubt that he intended to have his way.
Practice, Pietersen said, would not be as concentrated as it had been last winter which was Moores' first in charge. Players would have more time off between matches. The implication was clear: Moores had got it wrong, things would change. During the bizarre week in Antigua , when England appeared unsure about how to react to playing a single Twenty20 match in which the winning side were to receive $1m (£676,000) a man, the team appeared to lack leadership, Moores seemed a peripheral figure then and at times since – a sense that he is being tolerated rather
that being followed. The one-day series in India hardly helped. England were well off the pace throughout and were losing 5-0 when the last two matches were cancelled because of the attacks on Mumbai. By then few expected any other result than 7-0.
During England's abandonment of their tour and the subsequent regrouping, Moores has been more or less overlooked. The talking has been done by Pietersen or Hugh Morris, the managing director of England cricket who has been earning his corn and showing his colours for the first time.
In these circumstances, Moores has faded into the background and if the team continues to lose he might recede further than that. Do not, however, underestimate his strength of purpose, or his ability to forge a bond with Pietersen.
Nobody knows Moores or his style better than Chris Adams. Yesterday Adams was appointed director of cricket at Surrey, but he and Moores formed a powerful duo as captain and coach at Sussex for six years.
Adams said: "I know what his capabilities are and his vision for what a perfect team is. He was under no illusions when he went into the job that there was a need for a cultural and environmental change in the England set up.
"His goal is to make that effectively work in the long term while well aware that the cricketing public and media want instant results.
"After beating Australia in 2005 we came crashing to earth because there was no long-term programme to back up all that hard work."
They were an echo of Moores' self-assessment last summer. A year into the job, the coach knew that he had not persuaded the entire cricketing constituency. "If it was easy to build great teams and great players everybody would be doing it," Moores said. "But it has a time frame. International sport doesn't want to give you the time frame, you have to keep winning along the way, but also say, 'well OK, I think we've got to keep doing this and we've got to back him or him' and help make some of the necessary steps."
For several reasons, some beyond his control, Moores has suffered by comparison with his predecessor, Duncan Fletcher. By the time Fletcher left the job it was time for him to go. But he had led England to places they had never been – six successive series victories, eight consecutive Test match wins, the Ashes – and they were still his players, largely picked and nurtured by him.
Even Pietersen would think twice about arguing with Fletcher. He would trust and respect Fletcher, he and the others would expect Moores to earn those qualities. Significantly, Fletcher had close, solid relationships with two captains, Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan. Although Hussain may have liked Fletcher more than Vaughan they both recognised that they were better captains with Fletcher than without him. That is the key to the future of Moores and Pietersen.
Adams added: "As I have learned over the years what is crucial over the short term, the medium term and the long term is that the relationship between captain and coach has to be absolutely watertight.
"You don't have to agree on everything and in fact I think a healthy environment is one where you can have a disagreement from time to time. It's a balancing act. but it has to develop and become strong whether you're delivering information to players or the public. At the moment they are a work in progress. They are in a really difficult situation. The Stanford match in Antigua was a strain and then there was a very difficult one-day series in India and the awful events of last week. They are finding together that life in senior management is an incredibly bumpy road which can be treacherous at times. But as long as they stay tight together and are clear in their shared goal I see this as being a very successful partnership in years to come."
Moores' side have lost home series in successive summers, they lost last winter, they need a string of wins. Like Fletcher before him, he is not good at self-promotion, though for entirely different reasons. Fletcher made little effort to suffer fools, whether gladly or tetchily, and this was a category that frequently seemed to be occupied by anybody who could not spot a batting defect at a hundred paces.
His successor is both much more approachable and less wary. But whereas Fletcher sometimes talked in monosyllables, Moores is almost too voluble, and in the process of inventing a new language, a kind of folksy coach-speak, he can end up imparting the square root of nowt.
There is another relationship significant to Moores' time in the job, that with Hugh Morris. They seem to be still working out what their exact responsibilities are. As is the way with cricket, they have known each other for a good deal of their lives.
Moores' only international playing experience was as wicketkeeper for the English Schools' Cricket Association XI against Ireland Schools at Cheltenham in 1981. His captain that week was Hugh Morris. Moores got the England job without interview or competition, a point which his critics are fairly eager to point out.
"They are in the face of adversity now but who knows it may well suit England more than India," said Adams.
"Players win matches, not coaches. But isn't it funny that when those players lose the coach gets the blame. You can't have it all ways."
But the reality is that it has to be all ways. Moores and England can probably afford to lose in the next fortnight and probably will, but when they come home for Christmas they need coach and captain to be singing from the carol sheet.
Moores' almanac: The coach's returns
Peter Moores' record since taking the England job:
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