The honeymoon period for England’s new head coach ended around five seconds after the appointment was announced. Unfortunately for Peter Moores, this is what tends to happen in second-time-around relationships.
Having been recalled to the post seven years after first being enlisted and five after being relieved of the post, Moores must hit the ground not so much running as at the speed of light. His first match in charge is against Scotland early next month, a wee taster for the season ahead – a minor diversion in normal times, an absolute must-win engagement on this occasion.
You can hear the sound of claymores being sharpened and lips being smacked in Aberdeen for the visit of the Sassenachs on 9 May. Defeat for Moores, his captain Alastair Cook and his team is unthinkable. It would make the return untenable from the off.
But assuming the Scots are repelled and England make it back across the border without harm, there follow the visits this summer of Sri Lanka and India. And in the winter there is a World Cup and next summer the Ashes yet again. Almost all of these, England under Moores must win – he might be forgiven a lapse in the World Cup if they at least compete – for this remarriage to be considered successful.
Moores looked and sounded genuinely excited by the prospect of resuming his old job, perhaps recognising that he had unfinished business. He was unlucky to be sacked in the wake of the schism with Kevin Pietersen and his observation on Saturday was pertinent: “I never fell out with Kevin; Kevin fell out with me.”
It should not be casually overlooked that Moores carried himself with complete dignity throughout that sorry saga in January 2009. Apart from upsetting England’s most illustrious player and having the capacity to talk in coaching gobbledegook, it is difficult to tell what he did wrong. When he was sacked he did nothing wrong at all. He did not seek to carp or to criticise, he dusted himself down, got a new job at Lancashire, succeeded there and never once sought to criticise those who brought him down. It said a great deal about Moores as a man.
Maybe the timing was wrong in 2007 and as Paul Downton, the new managing director of England cricket, said in announcing the decision to go back to the future: “Now is his time.” Of equal significance may be the reaction of Michael Vaughan, who was captain of England when Moores was first hired as the team’s head coach.
While Pietersen took his disgruntlement to unacceptable levels, it was pretty widely known that Vaughan, in particular, and a cadre of other senior players in general, had issues with Moores’ style of doing things. Results were not bad – three Test series won, four lost – but they were nothing to write home about either.
There was certainly a feeling that the coach was much too prescriptive in laying down rules for experienced players. Coming from such an open, honest chap, this was difficult to comprehend. It was probably connected with his determination to come to terms with a rarefied environment and the misguided belief that he needed perpetually to stamp his authority.
Moores had been round the coaching block a time or two and had helped Sussex to the first Championship in their history. Maybe it was crucial, however, that he had never had experience of international cricket beyond Under-19 level.
Vaughan was uncomfortable to the point of being aghast. But his typically savvy comments on Moores’ re-engagement were not only gracious but recognised that he may well have learnt from the previous experience and that Cook may be an eminently better fit.
Moores certainly knows how to develop a relationship and how to let a captain have his head. At Sussex he worked admirably with Chris Adams, a strong-minded, robust personality who views Moores as a personal hero.
The role of the probable new assistant, Paul Farbrace, of whom everybody talks glowingly, will be instructive. There is a lingering sour taste about the approach for Farbrace, who signed a contract with Sri Lanka only three months ago, and Downton will have his work cut out to ensure that his recruitment is presented properly.
Farbrace, however, has to make his own mind up and it seems likely that he will sign up imminently. But the buck will stop with Moores and Cook. Insisting that he has learnt from the past, Moores will presumably try to ensure that it is Cook’s team. Downton, who is receiving a crassly unfair going-over in the Twittersphere, has made it clear that he expects Cook to assert control.
Cook may have to find something in himself that has been lacking from the moment he took over the captaincy from Andrew Strauss. He has never quite shed the perception that he was trying to do the job like Strauss, or that he ought to try to do the job like Strauss.
Much has been made of Cook’s tactical shortcomings. While it was true that he was often outsmarted by Australia’s Michael Clarke last winter, it is also true that a whirlwind by the name of Mitchell Johnson made Clarke’s proactive captaincy much easier to execute.
Still, this is a test now for all at the helm of English cricket – for Moores, but also for Cook, in whom such faith has been placed after a terrible sequence of results, and for Downton, who has been in the job only three months but has already had to make a series of important decisions.
It is not inconceivable that all three could go at the tail end of the 2015 summer if objectives have not been achieved. But if there is plenty of scope for improvement there is also reason to believe it can be achieved.
Moores will already have well-formed ideas of who he wants in his team. Last time he blooded Matt Prior, established Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad as the new ball pairing, and revived Graeme Swann as an international.
The Pietersen issue will not go away until England become serial winners again, a detailed dossier of his misdeeds is revealed, or both. Moores and Cook will simply have to handle it. But first, gentlemen, Scotland here we come.
Inbox objectives for the ‘new’ head coach
If there is plenty of scope for improvement, there is reason to believe it can be achieved
Make England less dull
There was a feeling even as they defeated Australia 3-0 last summer (oh, happy days) that their cricket lacked either sparkle or inspiration.
Build a better public image
England in the last days of Andy Flower lost the ability to engage properly with the media or the public. Moores’ passion for talking about the game can only help.
Find Cook an opening partner
It is vital that Cook starts to score big runs again after two desperately lean series. He needs a long-term partner; the Australian-born Sam Robson is the hot new tip.
Choose a wicketkeeper
With Jos Buttler not having seized the moment, the chances are Matt Prior will be back in the gloves.
Regroove the seam attack
If Steve Finn is not ready, look out for Tymal Mills, whose speed Moores may rather like.
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