England have taken a significant step in trying to halt their decline by sacking the team’s boss. Paul Downton, the managing director of England cricket, who has been in the job for little more than a year, paid the price for the team’s appalling recent run of results.
His replacement will be charged with having “a clear focus on delivering a world-class performance environment for all formats”. Quite what that means Downton’s role was supposed to be is something of a mystery but it was clear that he has been on borrowed time since the team’s catastrophic display in the World Cup.
Having let the dust settle on that, Tom Harrison, who took over as chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board in February, decided action was needed. He said: “The England cricket department needs to deliver performance at the highest level and our structure needs to be accountable for reaching the standards we aspire to.
“The new role we are putting in place will deliver an environment where world-class performance is at the heart of everything we do.”
Downton was appointed by the ECB’s outgoing chairman, Giles Clarke, after spending two decades in the City. He had a distinguished career as a wicketkeeper with Kent, Middlesex and England, for whom he won 30 Test caps, and his surprising return to the game at the age of 57 coincided with England’s heavy Ashes defeat last year.
Before Downton’s office chair was warm, he sacked Kevin Pietersen as an England cricketer – and then his problems started. He made a hash of explaining the reasons for that decision and never really recovered.
Pietersen haunted him for his entire tenure and Downton, while determined to be candid, frequently gave the impression of floundering in the modern game. Nominally in charge of all England cricket across all age groups – men’s, women’s and disabled – he made the senior team his main focus and went as far as sitting in on selection meetings.
That may have made him more, rather than less vulnerable as the team gradually unravelled. Although they won a home Test series against India last summer, performances and results in general have been constantly moderate.
The removal of Downton ahead of Thursday’s ECB board meeting would seem to provide further backing for Peter Moores and Alastair Cook as coach and captain of England, though they will also recognise that they now have an ultimate boss who is not afraid to take tough action. Harrison intends to change the structure and Downton’s successor will be solely responsible for the England team.
That may mean he has to have a formal role as a selector, which could have an impact on the National Selector, James Whitaker. Harrison said the new director will be charged with putting a plan in place for 2019 – when the next World Cup will be held in England and Wales. Moores and his squad in the West Indies were aware of what was happening and the search for the director has already started.
“Today is about the future of cricket,” Harrison told Sky Sports News. “Today is about where this organisation is set to go over the next four to five years. Today has been a very tough day for the ECB and we’ve made a tough decision on a highly respected member of staff but ultimately we’re doing that with the future in mind and with absolute commitment to deliver change through the game which puts us on a sound footing to broaden our audience and to deliver successful England teams.”
The accent will be on cricket credentials rather than management qualifications and recent internationals may well be on the headhunters’ target list. Andrew Strauss, who has not yet made up his mind about where his future might lie, frequently said as a player that cricket administration might up his street. Michael Vaughan has also thrown his hat in the ring.
Whoever it is, the new man may like to avoid the sort of shenanigans in which England were involved with a Test series against West Indies only four days away. Such was the weakness of the St Kitts and Nevis Invitational XI that the tourists effectively had a middle practice.
Most of the putative Test XI bowled against an invitational XI which contained invitees from the tour party. The intention was that England would be in the field for 90 overs no matter how many times they dismissed their opponents.
St Kitts were reduced to 55 for 4, with their England guests Jonathan Trott and Gary Ballance departed, but Jonny Bairstow and Akeem Saunders averted a collapse with a fifth-wicket partnership of 135.
Who's in charge? ECB hierarchy
Paul Downton (Former managing director)
Took up role last February and was responsible for sacking Kevin Pietersen.
Tom Harrison (ECB chief executive)
Sacked Downton as one of his first tasks. Will undertake review of cricket in England.
Colin Graves (ECB chairman)
Starts job on 15 May. Executive chairman of Yorkshire with business background. Joined ECB as deputy chairman in 2013.
James Whitaker (National Selector)
Took up position in October 2013 after working under previous supremo, Geoff Miller.
Downton’s reign: From Ashes victory to World Cup humiliation
August 2013 England secure the Ashes by winning the fourth Test at the Riverside by 74 runs – they go on to draw at The Oval and win the series 3-0.
October 2013 Paul Downton is appointed managing director of the England cricket team, replacing Hugh Morris, though he is not due to take up the post until February.
January 2014 England are whitewashed 5-0 in the return Ashes series in Australia. Kevin Pietersen finishes as England’s highest run-scorer of the series. After also losing the one-day series, Andy Flower resigns as team director of the Test side.
February 2014 Five days later, Pietersen is sacked in a unanimous decision as the management seek to “rebuild” the side.
April 2014 Peter Moores is announced as the new England coach for both Test and one-day cricket, his second stint in the role – having been sacked in January 2009 because of an “irretrievable breakdown” with Pietersen, who also decided to stand down as England captain.
May 2014 Downton heavily criticises Pietersen, describing him as “distracted” and “disinterested” in the Ashes.
December 2014 Alastair Cook is sacked as England’s one-day captain less than two months before the World Cup begins.
March 2015 The incoming chairman of the ECB, Colin Graves, says Pietersen could return to the England team if he scores enough runs in county cricket. England are knocked out of the World Cup at the group stage following their defeat to Bangladesh. But Downton and Moores are assured of their positions by Graves.
April 2015 Downton is sacked and the position is changed to “director of cricket”.
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