If there is any level of surprise at the appointment of Chris Silverwood as England head coach, perhaps we have not been listening closely enough to Ashley Giles.
For all the talk of Gary Kirsten seeming like a shoo-in as recently as the beginning of last week, Giles – the man primarily responsible for the hiring of the new man – has been open with his vision since he became director of cricket last December.
He said he had a preference for appointing an Englishman and then talked up Silverwood’s credentials in February.
Does that mean that Silverwood, who for the best part of two years was fast-bowling coach under Trevor Bayliss, is the right man for the top job?
Some might be underwhelmed at the decision to promote from within, feeling that England’s stagnant Test team is crying out for a fresh voice.
Silverwood does not come with the international pedigree of South African Kirsten, who led his nation to number one in the Test rankings and was in charge of India when they won the 2011 World Cup.
Neither does he have the standing in the game of Alec Stewart, the former England captain who may well have got the job had he not withdrawn from the reckoning late in the recruitment process.
It is Surrey director of cricket Stewart who has helped oversee the development of the likes of Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Ollie Pope and Sam Curran, on whom the future of the England Test team may be built.
However, 44-year-old Silverwood, who played six Tests for England between 1996 and 2002, does come with an outstanding record in domestic cricket.
When he took temporary charge of Essex, promoted from assistant coach upon the departure of Paul Grayson, they sat sixth in Division Two of the County Championship.
The final month of the 2015 season saw them climb to third and was enough to convince a panel that included former England captain Graham Gooch to give Silverwood the job on a full-time basis.
In 2016, Essex were promoted from Division Two. In 2017, they were crowned county champions for the first time in 25 years.
And, even though Silverwood took up his post with England in early 2018, Essex have built on what he put in place.
Now under Anthony McGrath, this season they did the double of the County Championship and the T20 Blast.
Perhaps a foreign name would have been sexier – there seems to be an attitude across British sport that overseas achievements carry more weight than those on these shores – but Silverwood has done as much as anyone currently working in the English game to prove himself worthy of leading the national team.
There is also the kudos that comes with being part of the coaching team that delivered the World Cup.
Silverwood is popular with the players – a number of media interviews are disrupted when he wanders by, trying to disrupt proceedings with a joke or distraction.
His time as part of Bayliss’ staff means he has an insight into what is needed to improve the Test side and keep the white-ball side at the level that made them 50-over world champions.
Not only that, but he has forged relationships with captains Joe Root and Eoin Morgan and, in the case of Morgan, was a team-mate at Middlesex 10 years ago.
His experience of county cricket – something that some of the overseas names linked to the job lacked – will also stand him in good stead.
As he left, Bayliss referenced the gulf in standard between the domestic and international games, the pitches county cricket is played on, and the need for the England and Wales Cricket Board and counties to work together.
So, when Giles says that Silverwood’s relationships with county coaches and directors of cricket will be “invaluable”, it seems like Bayliss’ message has been heard.
|Chris Silverwood – the player|
|Major teams – England, Yorkshire, Middlesex, Mashonaland Eagles (Zimbabwe)|
Upon Bayliss’ departure, we were left to ponder if the Australian’s reign had been a success.
Yes, he delivered the World Cup English cricket craved, but the Test team at best stood still, or even went backwards under his watch.
The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. You can’t credit Bayliss for the World Cup without being realistic about the Test side.
Silverwood’s tenure will give us a better understanding of Bayliss’ legacy. Is it possible for England to improve in Test cricket and keep their white-ball cricket at such a stellar standard?
Can one man, in charge of the international team that plays more, travels furthest and spends more nights away from home than all others, successfully keep his eye on one series while at the same time planning for the next tour or tournament?
Indeed, some of this boils down to the question of what does an international coach actually do?
For Bayliss, it was all about giving the players freedom and the confidence to thrive. It worked in the one-day game, but not in the Test arena.
Further back, Andy Flower’s prescriptive approach and meticulous planning made England the best Test team in the world.
Wherever Silverwood sits on that spectrum, there are key results on which he will be judged.
With the home World Cup won, there is no longer the excuse of one-day cricket being a distraction to the Test side.
Giles has stated that there will be a renewed focus on red-ball cricket and in the next two and a half years there are the twin goals of the World Test Championship and winning back the Ashes in Australia.
They may have to be achieved without either or both of old firm new-ball pair James Anderson and Stuart Broad, each much closer to the end of their careers than the beginning.
There is also the opportunity to do a limited-overs double at the Twenty20 World Cup towards the end of next year with the World Cup to defend in India in 2023.
It could be argued that Kirsten had the tools to accomplish some of these tasks. His World Cup triumph with India was in India and his South Africa side won in Australia in 2012-13.
However, in making his biggest appointment to date (and maybe the biggest he will make as director of cricket), Giles said that Silverwood “has some detailed thoughts on what it will take to win the Ashes in Australia and win major white-ball tournaments”.
Giles is no fool. He knows that he will judged on this decision above all others.
Not only that, but for only the second Englishman in 20 years to become England coach (Peter Moores did it twice in that time) is both refreshing and tinged with danger for those in the domestic game who want to follow Silverwood.
If it goes well, the door will be open to others. If it goes badly, you can bet that the next coach will come from further afield.