England set to turn to Alec Stewart’s firm hand after the failure of Chris Silverwood’s soft touch

Silverwood was relieved of his duties as England head coach on Thursday only a day after the director of cricket Ashley Giles suffered the same fate in the wake of an Ashes debacle

Vithushan Ehantharajah
Sports Features Writer
Friday 04 February 2022 08:01
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<p>Chris Silverwood has departed the England setup</p>

Chris Silverwood has departed the England setup

It was on 20 December 2021 that England’s players say they first saw Chris Silverwood’s teeth. The setting was the away dressing room of the Adelaide Oval. England had collapsed in a heap to lose the second Ashes Test by 275 runs. And now, 806 days into his tenure, he had finally lost his temper.

It was both too little and too late. Australia had a 2-0 lead, and the level of England’s poor performance was never going to be corrected by some stern words, no matter how rare. Joe Root, the captain, had prodded Silverwood to read the riot act to the underperforming troupe. It was firm, but apparently not firm enough. The Ashes were on their way to being lost, as was Silverwood’s loose grip on this team.

Late on day number 851, the former Essex head coach was relieved of his position, almost exactly 24 hours after director Ashley Giles had suffered the same fate. Having replaced Trevor Bayliss in October 2019 with a view to improving the Test side, a record of 10 Test matches won out of 29, and more pertinently 13 defeats, reflects the need for change. Nine of those losses came in 2021 alone. Of the 11 series under his watch, only four were won.

The inevitability of this news will colour judgement on why Silverwood was given the role in the first place. Perhaps the only issue at the time of his employment was that he was part of the previous regime under Bayliss as bowling coach, thus culpable in some way for the erratic nature of England’s red ball performances. But the pros outweigh the cons when you consider his role in turning Essex into a dominant force in the County Championship, helping promotion from Division Two and their 2017 Championship title, before joining the England set-up at the start of 2018.

Alas, by the end of his tenure, “erratic” has mutated into abject. His mantra of “big first innings” wore thin in press engagements and behind closed doors – on a par with advising a football team to score more goals than they concede. It was not so much that he was basic, rather that he trusted his players too much. Those players who championed his relaxed approach, not least how he would let them do things their own way without judgement when results were good, were floundering throughout the last year and catastrophically ill-equipped and under prepared in Australia.

Former England captain Alec Stewart could now take temporary charge

How much of that is his fault? Well he certainly is culpable for the Ashes debacle and the way England sleepwalked through that green-and-gold stained-glass window. Players have spoken privately about how practice sessions leading up to the first Test in Brisbane lacked the necessary planning given the lack of warm-up matches. Conversations around leaving the ball and bowling lengths were only really hammered once the first Test had already come and gone (and been lost).

Within all those grumbles comes a sense of a lack of responsibility from the playing group, which is also a product of Silverwood’s softer touch. There is no doubt some have coasted under his watch and regressed as a result. They’d do well to take ownership of that, especially given that it has cost a fundamentally good man his job.

As ever with these high-performance roles, there will be an overcorrection. And after relinquishing the urn in 12 days, even an overreaction may not be enough. For now, Andrew Strauss, as interim director of men’s cricket, is expected to hand the reins temporarily to Surrey director of cricket Alec Stewart: a stern disciplinarian whose 133 Tests, 15 as captain, will immediately garner him the respect and fear that the previous incumbent strived for but could not quite find.

Even through the challenges of the pandemic, Silverwood has maintained a largely genial presence. And as correct as Thursday’s decision is, there is an inherent sadness that a man who valued this job more than any of the six Test appearances he made as a bustling quick has been turfed out to such wide fanfare.

Silverwood maintained dignity throughout this last series, and suffered when he contracted Covid-19 and was forced to miss the fourth Test in Sydney. England’s draw, while preventing a whitewash, was also a cruel blow as those on the outside joked the side was seemingly better off without him.

Long after the Ashes was lost inside 12 days, he regularly spoke of being “the right man for the job”, even as every wall, Tweet and article said otherwise. No doubt he thought as much, even if his words were reinforced by personal pride rather than steadfast belief. It is likely his legacy will be that his time in charge showed these players need a stronger hand who won’t defend them after their worst performances in generations.

The ECB’s next moves are now the most important. It is likely the panel that convened after the Ashes, and has already taken out two figureheads, will recommend hiring two replacements for Silverwood’s job to cope with the red and white ball schedules. A new head selector will also be needed given that formed part of Silverwood’s remit when Ed Smith was fired last April by the now-departed Giles.

Apportioning blame is easy. Sacking those already under intense public scrutiny isn’t that much more difficult. The hardest part – putting people in place to fix English Test cricket – is just getting started.

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