Chris Silverwood steps into spotlight with new role and even more responsibility
Chris Silverwood has preferred to keep a low profile during his time as England’s head coach but by now taking on the additional job of sole selector, and thus approaching something more commonly found in football and rugby, the spotlight will get a notch or two brighter.
In a year when the stated aims are clear – add the T20 World Cup to the trophy cabinet and regain the Ashes – the question of who is responsible for what has certainly been simplified. Joe Root and Eoin Morgan, respective captains of the Test and white-ball teams, remain central but by removing Ed Smith as national selector and transferring his powers to Silverwood, fewer decision-makers are now involved.
How this plays out will be intriguing given cricket’s long history of selection committees and few examples otherwise. A couple spring to mind. In Pakistan, Misbah-ul-Haq’s recent time as head coach and chief selector lasted 12 months and he is now solely the former, while England’s previous foray into the world of having one overarching supremo, Ray Illingworth, back in the mid-90s, is said to be slightly over-egged as regards his coaching input and also suffered from a generational gap.
The landscape Silverwood will navigate is hugely different to Pakistan, while the 46-year-old is closer to the players than Illingworth, his fellow Yorkshireman, in age and personal experience in cricket. A year of expanded squads in the bubble – and his past time as head coach of Essex – means he will know most of the players available. In the short to medium term, selection should be relatively straightforward, while any potential bolters will still be assessed and flagged up by the scouting network.
Silverwood has taken time to assemble his preferred coaching setup since being appointed in 2019 and in Graham Thorpe, Paul Collingwood, Marcus Trescothick, Jon Lewis and Jeetan Patel – as well as Richard Dawson heading up the pathway – he now has trusted eyes and ears in place. The only question is, without a selector observing from a distance, what checks are in place to prevent this becoming an echo chamber? And, looking further ahead, for all the advancements in technology, how easily can a head coach stay abreast of emerging players given a packed schedule?
When it comes to England’s white-ball team, ranked No 1 in both shorter formats, Morgan’s hand will remain firmly on the tiller. As Dawid Malan put it last autumn, and Alex Hales has discovered over the past two years, the captain’s opinion is everything. There seems little reason for a well-oiled machine to change because of the restructure, even if the recent 3-2 defeat to India in the Twenty20s threw up areas for improvement.
If anything the removal of Smith has likely been done more with the Test team in mind and follows a winter in which the rotation policy, however well intentioned, left Root depleted. Ashley Giles, the team director, clearly feels selection by committee is antiquated, but for all the talk about clarity of roles and greater accountability it would surely have lived on had everyone been working well together.
Silverwood’s ability to explain his decisions publicly will be key and though not every press conference in cricket is necessary, squad announcements are scarcely unimportant. From supporters to the boardroom, everyone has a view and so clearly articulating the chosen path – and ensuring it is consistent with what the players themselves have been told behind closed doors – remains a must.
It’s here where Smith had started to lose his audience. He deserves credit for bringing the thinking process behind selection into the 21st century (perhaps even making his role redundant as a result) and there were some inventive picks along the way. But his tone had become slightly supercilious towards the end and veered towards spin. And though the job is not a popularity contest, he also managed to irrevocably rub a number of established players up the wrong way.
Silverwood is more of a people person and viewed as a pleasingly straight-talking communicator behind the scenes. Although conversely, when the dictaphones are placed on the table and the cameras roll, he can struggle to get his point across at times and can slip into cliche or repetition.
It’s an area that will require some hard work but as a former fast bowler, and someone who has followed three months away from home on the subcontinent by taking on additional responsibilities, hard work is something Silverwood is clearly not averse to.