Chris Silverwood’s first reaction on hearing that he was England’s new head coach was a one-word exclamation: “Wow”. He was sitting in his lounge as Ashley Giles’ name flashed up on his phone, and recalls falling rather silent as the enormity of his new role washed over him. It was left to his wife Victoria to do the handstands on his behalf, after a silent fist-pump had conveyed everything she needed to know about the conversation – in the short term at least.
“I was immensely proud, and very humbled to be given the opportunity, and very grateful that I will get to live the dream again in a coaching capacity,” said Silverwood. “But equally I am very, very, very excited about what can be achieved with two teams that can be very successful. For me to be able to play a part in that, and help guide that, is fantastic.”
There is clearly a huge amount to like about Silverwood the man, let alone Silverwood the coach. As Giles pointed out in introducing him, he took an Essex team that had previously been a “rabble” and delivered not only promotion and the Championship in consecutive seasons in 2016 and 2017, but the framework for this season’s double as well.
From stalwarts such as Alastair Cook to Ravi Bopara, to the young guns, Aaron Beard and Dan Lawrence, on whom the club’s future success will hinge, no-one at Essex has a bad word to say about “Spoons”, and the same is clearly true of an England camp that has just come through the most stringent acid test in recent memory. “He couldn’t have worked in a more pressurised environment this summer,” noted Giles, “whether as head coach or one of the assistant coaches.”
All of which is hugely laudable. And yet, it’s not being unfair to suggest that the public reaction to Silverwood’s appointment has been somewhat underwhelming – more “meh” than “wow”, you might say, although, as any student of global politics would recognise in these troubled times, there is actually a blessed relief to be found in genuine, unequivocal indifference.
Silverwood can therefore expect to be judged, for the time being, by what he is not. He is not a glamorous overseas appointment, with a proven international track record and a wealth of impressive contacts on speed-dial. He is not a man in high demand on the T20 franchise circuit and therefore constrained by availability (and affordability). He is, instead, a thoroughly good egg who can join a few dots between an England team which, as Giles admitted, has had a tendency to exist as an “island” in recent years, and the county system in which his career has been invested and upon whom England’s Test team will rely if it is to get back to the levels to which it aspires.
“People are the centre of my coaching philosophy,” said Silverwood. “Seeing them do well with their dreams, and what they’re trying to do, makes me smile. That’s why I do it. I want to create self-thinking, self-sufficient cricketers that will be successful, and if we can do that, you know what, it’ll make me smile.”
By any stretch of the imagination, Silverwood’s actual unveiling was an undeniably low-key event. For starters, it took place three days after the announcement itself, and in being staged in a cosy back-room at Lord’s, rather than the pavilion or one of the ground’s grander suites, it conveyed a sense of continuity rather than change. A desire to slip the new man into his role with as little splash as possible.
Perhaps that’s understandable. After all, it’s not as if the structures that Trevor Bayliss put in place in his four-year tenure require purging – quite the opposite in fact. He delivered on his most fundamental promise in winning this summer’s World Cup and, in walking away with his stock as high as he could have hoped it to be, he is arguably the first England coach since the very first – Micky Stewart in 1992 – to leave the role on his own terms and at a time of his own choosing.
But as Giles, England’s director of cricket, intimated in the final weeks of the interview process, there will be a necessary focus on Test cricket in the coming four-year cycle. For that is the format that suffered the most while England’s white-ball boy-racers were throwing caution to the wind in pursuit of their ultimate goal.
And, now that an Ashes summer has ended, for the first time in 18 years, without the urn being retained or recaptured on home soil, that is the format that is going to matter above all others in the build-up to England’s return series in Australia in 2021-22. Therefore, in trusting the CV of a man with a brief, if proven, track record in first-class team-building, Giles is adamant he’s found his man for the moment, irrespective of whether the field of genuine contenders was restricted by the job’s specifications.
There are obvious advantages to having a single head coach to oversee all three formats – ones that Giles himself knows only too well from his short and frustrating stint as one-day coach in 2012-14 – but as Bayliss demonstrated with his lackadaisical approach to the rigours of the Test role, the pitfalls are also plain.
On that note, however, Silverwood will begin his active role in just over a week’s time when England set off for New Zealand for the T20 leg of their winter, with few expectations. He will, however, travel with an abundance of goodwill, and with a captain, Eoin Morgan, whose desire to carry on after nailing his ultimate achievement was influenced, in no small part, by his recognition of the need for continuity.
He can expect, therefore, to have his hand held for the early weeks of his reign – which is no bad thing, given the apparent desire to use Silverwood’s insider status, both within the England squad and the wider England game, to foster links within the system.
Tellingly, Giles suggested that “winning” was not even the most important aspect of his appointment. Of far greater importance, and in keeping with the tone of the ECB’s recent strategy document, “Inspiring Generations” was the need to create “the most respected team in the world”.
What does that even look like? Silverwood had a stab at an answer: “Ultimately, you want to be successful, but it’s how you are successful as well,” he said. “So it’s winning in the right spirit of the game. Winning with a little bit of class, and respecting your opposition as well.
“Respect is a big word. It’s very easy to talk about, but we’re going to make sure that we respect everything around us, everybody around us, and the game, and make sure that we carry that through with us.”
It’s a huge task. And it’s a daunting one, not least given the fate of the last Englishman to coach England across all formats. Peter Moores, like Silverwood, was declared to be the “outstanding candidate” when he was pitched into the role (on the first occasion) in 2007 at the end of Duncan Fletcher’s historic but over-long tenure.
The significant difference, however, was one of expectation. Moores was, to all intents and purposes, the only man for the job on that occasion, as the ECB felt obliged to reward the star graduate of their own fledgling academy. With Silverwood it is reassuringly different. He is a perfectly good candidate, without being held up as some sort of messiah. That in-built wriggle room, not to mention his existing relationships, may be exactly what he requires to make a low-key success of the highest profile role.