A technical wiz and meticulous man manager, Chris Silverwood can steer England to long-term success

The new head coach’s work over the past 18 months, as well as his standout impression during the recruitment process, saw him edge more high-profile candidates to the helm

Vithushan Ehantharajah
Wednesday 30 October 2019 11:10
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England's route to Cricket World Cup glory

Before Varun Chopra re-signed for his boyhood club Essex, Chris Silverwood wanted the pair to meet face-to-face, just the two of them, without any representatives present. That way, he felt, they could get to know each other better.

But with negotiations over Chopra’s departure from Warwickshire taking place during a busy part of the 2016 season, organising a sit-down was proving tricky. A phone call was suggested as an alternative, but Silverwood didn’t want to do it that way.

So, the pair made a compromise. “It was a pub,” laughs Chopra. “A pub just off a motorway. Somewhere between Warwickshire and Gloucester. I can’t remember exactly where it was. I probably couldn’t find my way back there if I tried.”

If the route to the pub was convoluted, the hours that followed certainly weren’t. The meeting was indicative of Silverwood’s values as a head coach: up-front, no fluff – “typical of a straight-talking Yorkshireman,” says Chopra.

After their meal, Chopra left certain of his next move. He signed for Essex at the end of that summer, knowing he was going to be working under a coach who appreciates him as a player and a person. One with traditional values adapted for the modern-day player.

Over the next few weeks, these are the feelings Silverwood will look to cultivate within the national set-up on his first tour as head coach of England. Friday's Twenty20 against New Zealand in Christchurch – the first of a five-match series – will be his first competitive match in charge.

Those established as internationals will know exactly what he is about. The 44-year old has been the national bowling coach since the start of 2018, and even back then he was touted as a replacement for Trevor Bayliss when the Australian announced around the same time that he would not be looking to extend his tenure as head coach beyond September 2019. Promotion to Division One and then a first Essex title in 1992 in back-to-back seasons were the top bullet points on his CV.

Silverwood’s work over those 18 months, coupled with strong impressions during the recruitment process, saw him beat more high-profile candidates and become only England’s second English head coach in the last 20 years. Though some fans found his appointment underwhelming, a couple of elements are worthy of note.

Firstly, that Ashley Giles - who has been ruthless in reshuffling the ECB’s coaching set-up, even ending Andy Flower’s 12-year association with the governing body - has not shied away from making big decisions since becoming managing director this summer. And that, while a vital cog in Bayliss’ staff, Silverwood will not simply maintain the status quo.

His style of coaching is more hands-on and that is unlikely to change even though he will be flanked by several capable assistants. Players find him easy to socialise with and an astute observer of the game – as such, someone worth talking to, even if you are not seeking company at the bar.

Chris Silverwood had been England's bowling coach since the start of 2018 

At Essex, he was keen not to waste everyone’s time in team meetings. Messages to the group were clear and simple, with more detailed instructions provided to those who needed it. Some privy to the club's dressing room say Silverwood’s most impressive achievement during his time was uniting a playing staff that had begun to fracture after years of treading water in Division Two.

As an exceptional man manager, he realised the best way to control the environment was to work closely with skipper Ryan ten Doeschate to bring it together and create something concrete. The relationship of captain and coach in cricket is a precarious one because of the way power shifts from one to the other whether in-game or not, but these two struck the perfect balance, as Silverwood did with other senior players. His method with them was to offer the freedom to continue doing what made them good players but provide a framework to their training.

For more junior players, Silverwood was more involved. Sam Cook, a right-arm seamer who made his debut for Essex in 2016, credits him with an astute change to a technical quirk no other coach had noticed. He has gone on to take 78 first-class wickets for the club at an outstanding average of 22.

The 22-year old jumps in towards the stumps in his run-up, which is fairly common for a pace bowler. But the way in which Cook did so meant he lost both momentum and alignment. Previous coaches suggested he should just stop jumping in, which is easier said than done. Silverwood, however, noticed that the way in which his back foot landed before take-off was the problem. A winter’s worth of drills helped reduce how far Cook would shift, ensuring as much of his energy as possible was focussed ongoing right through the crease.

Chris Silverwood with Mark Jordan and Jofra Archer

“One thing Silvers always spoke about was finding solutions to problems,” Cook says. “If we were a few wickets down on the first morning, he’d tell us to work out how to play better on that pitch. With me, he got me thinking a bit deeper about my action and how I can improve myself rather than just focussing on why things aren’t going your way.”

Even so, he was not keen on quick-fixes and the longevity of the work he put in at Chelmsford in his two years in charge is clear for all to see. Anthony McGrath, who replaced Silverwood as Essex head coach in 2018, took time to credit his predecessor's work after this summer's Championship success.

As much as his expertise are geared towards bowling, he is also a handy ally for batsmen. Not only does he possess a keen eye for technical flaws that he would have once exploited, but he is very handy with the dog-slinger. The latter, in particular, is a useful skill for testing batsmen with pace but also ensuring his time with players is not just skewed towards those with ball in hand. He can see, firsthand, how every part of his team are shaping up.

If there is one standout example of Silverwood’s merits as a technical wiz and a man manager, it is probably Mark Wood. The Durham quick was something of an enigma prior to 2019: well-meaning and all-action but whose confidence had taken a battering through countless injuries and subsequent technical false-starts. Previous coaches had tried and failed to harness his unique gifts despite all his endeavour.

Silverwood, though, has been a revelation: one of the main drivers of Wood’s successful tweaks, such as a lengthening run-up, and developing more iron-clad self-esteem. At the start of this year, Wood returned his maiden Test five-wicket haul against West Indies in what many believe was the fastest spell by an Englishmen. That speed was maintained into the summer where he took 18 wickets in the successful World Cup campaign.

Some of Chris Silverwood's finest work has been with Mark Wood

What similarities he may share with Bayliss extend to his calm demeanour. He is not one for the hair-dryer treatment, though he does subscribe to “naughty boy nets”. Whenever Essex had a bad day, he would not read the players the riot act that evening. But they knew the next training session would be relentless. A bad performance in the field during a T20, for example, was always followed by two hours of intense drills. “Oh it was definitely a punishment,” said one former player. “But you knew it was coming, you knew you deserved it and you knew it would correct things.”

Of course, the biggest part of Silverwood’s brief, and one which he will be judged most sternly on, is how the Test side performs under his tutelage. The two limited-overs teams are effectively self-sufficient ahead of next year’s Twenty20 World Cup. But the majority of English fans and administrators want an antidote to the inconsistency that has seen just 32 red-ball wins in 72 matches since the start of 2014. They also want a squad that can challenge for the Ashes in Australia when the winter of 2021/22 rolls around. That project begins in earnest on November 20th when the two-Test series with New Zealand begins.

It will take time for Silverwood to imprint his ethos on the respective England sides, and likely longer still to convince detractors the ECB were right to spurn the more decorated alternatives for the post he now occupies. On the available evidence, it is unlikely he will be daunted by the prospect of either. Nevertheless, Friday is the first step towards achieving both.

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