Cricket: England must take chance of total overhaul

England captain Alastair Cook. Picture: Getty
England captain Alastair Cook. Picture: Getty
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‘Got him’ was one of the most famous of the late Richie Benaud’s catchphrases. It will only be heard again in parody and, if any comedian was so inclined, it could be used by Tom Harrison, the new chief executive for the ECB, about Paul Downton, the man he sacked during the week.

It is amazing that the team who were so appalling last winter, then poor during the summer before plunging into abject failure this winter should be protected and the managing director be the one to suffer.

His tenure was not a happy one, but perspective demands the players and coaching staff should take the majority of the blame for a dreadful 15 months.

Starting this week, they have a chance to start to repair the damage. West Indies are shocking. There really is no other word for them as the ongoing boardroom shenanigans would make the Borgias blush and the players appear uninterested and disengaged. For any partly capable Test team this should be an easy win.

And, whatever England’s troubles at the shorter form, they can still deliver five days of attritional cricket and that in the past few years has been enough to win Test matches.

Even if they do, though, there should be no doubt careers are on the line, first and foremost those of the coach and captain. Peter Moores has not enjoyed his second attempt at managing the England team. The first time he fell out with Kevin Pietersen. This time he has the possible return of Pietersen lurking.

Moores should not be judged on immediate results, though, as they will not tell the whole story. He is an excellent coach, but very much a details-and-processes man. It may be that Michael Vaughan is correct and he would be better utilised working with developing players, the 17 to 23-year-olds who need to swiftly learn their own games and the maturity needed for them to blossom as players. If that is, indeed, his best area then Harrison should waste little time and put him there and start the search for a new coach.

Similarly, Alastair Cook needs to score runs, but even if he does that should not protect him as captain. If there is to be a radical overhaul of the England set-up, and the swift removal of Downton suggests there is, then it needs to be a complete process. That means a thorough analysis of jobs and who is best for them, however safe or secure they believe themselves to be.

So, is Cook, pictured below, the best captain? The answer to that is probably no. Therefore the ECB should now be sourcing potential captains and helping them develop the specific skills needed. Joe Root is the obvious candidate, but they should also be developing the best candidates from county cricket and the Lions, James Vince, of Hampshire, for example, and even at levels below that down to the 17-year-olds.

What should be of great concern to all, though, is the paucity of England’s bowling stock. James Anderson is still a skilled swing bowler, but he is nearer the end of his career than the start. Stuart Broad has delivered dross for 12 months and is now entrenched in the military medium category and yet this pair is still England’s spearhead.

Where are the young speedsters, the rocketmen who can get a batsman dancing and leaping around? Australia have them. Behind the old guard of Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson, there are Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and James Faulkner.

England have Steven Finn, who was quick but seems to have lost all aggression and pace, and Tymal Mills. The latter is an interesting case. Left arm , raw, definitely quick, short in stature, often expensive and lacking many years of understanding of his art. That is Mills, but could easily have been used to describe Mitchell Johnson some years ago.

Australia turned him into the world’s most feared bowler. Can all England’s highly paid coaches do the same for Mills? They need to and swiftly or maybe it is the coaches through the ECB system that need reviewing. It would also be good to see England play with a joy in the game. They look petrified of failure and being blamed or harangued.

This trip to West Indies is, then, a chance for the squad to reconnect with the enjoyment of the game and with a rather disgruntled public. For Harrison and the ECB board, it is an opportunity to settle on a strategic vision for the team and management.

Come the English summer, there should be a plan, and, if that means new coach and captain, then so be it. Fifteen months of disaster cannot be blamed entirely on one man, however unsuitable he proved for the job.