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No matter the sport, it is never a good sign when a head coach has to publicly back himself in the middle of his biggest assignment.
No sooner had the memes of Joe Root getting hit in his nether regions had come and gone, and the usual conversations had begun about county cricket’s inability to produce cricketers equipped for the rigours of Test cricket, Chris Silverwood had to do just that.
“Do I believe I’m the right man? Yes I do or I wouldn’t have taken the job in the first place. You’re under pressure constantly,” he said, defiantly. “I do believe I can turn it around, I believe I can. We have had those honest chats and I believe I have the right coaching staff around me to make that happen as well.”
Defeat in Adelaide was England’s 11th in 26 Tests under Silverwood’s watch, with just 10 wins. England are 2-0 down in the Ashes, and it feels a very different 2-0 to the last two times they have been in this situation. They have yet to claim one of the nine days played as their own, stumbling through the last few weeks with awry selections, muddled plans and nothing to suggest they have the tools to turn this around. All aspects that fall under Silverwood’s watch.
It is has been a while since a coach of England has had to come out and bat for himself. You would probably have to go back to Peter Moores’ second stint to find the last who was really swimming against the tide. He lasted just 13 months in the role, fate sealed by a disastrous 2015 World Cup, with many of the same reservations coming to the fore off the back of his original time in charge between 2007 and 2009.
Trevor Bayliss managed to avoid calls for his head through England’s limited overs awakening, largely because he dulled the conversation by putting a time stamp on his exit. Which, in a way, probably has not helped Silverwood. The four years before Bayliss stepped away at the end of the 2019 summer were hardly a golden period for the Test side, winning 27 matches while losing 25. Silverwood, who helped forge a strong four-day side at Essex who won two County Championships, was supposed to be the remedy. Yet now England are worse.
There is another element to the heat on him right now and it relates to supporters. The Ashes occupy a peculiar space in cricket’s psyche. To the rest of the world, it has become something of a nuisance. A constant talking point held above other series.
For the vast majority of England and Australia fans, however, its relevance has never been more profound, regardless of the World Test Championship standings. India series might bring the eyes (and the money), but the Ashes does that along with an ingrained partisanship.
The result is a series that benefits from what we might term “the Wimbledon effect”: appointment viewing for fair-weather fans as much as the diehards. The former having paid little attention to the preceding matches against other nations, weighing in when it “matters most” usually with knee-jerk takes, much to the annoyance of the latter.
The difference this time is both camps have never seemed more united in impending defeat. And perhaps most striking of all is this joined disgruntlement is occurring while the series is being played out Down Under. Usually, the time difference insulates an England team from widespread criticism because missteps occur while the United Kingdom is asleep. Alas, the more amenable day-night (or night-day) hours of the second Test put the latest shambles in the morning prime-time slot.
Worst of all seems to be an indifference from Australian fans. They are of course enjoying turning England over in such fashion. But even they seem to be carrying a degree of dissatisfaction from how easy this Pom bashing is. Only on the rarest of occasions is it difficult, but it shouldn’t be this easy.
Above all else has been a distinct lack of fight, which formed part of Silverwood’s debrief at the end of day five in Adelaide after Australia’s 275 victory had been confirmed early on the final session. Among criticisms of bowling too short in the first innings and not taking chances in the field was a broader point of needing to set terms rather than follow them. To throw the first punch.
Quite how a set of players who have spent so much time already backed into the corner go about doing that remains to be seen. Of course, you cannot shout a batter's average into the forties, nor chuck on an extra few miles-per-hour into a bowler through intimidation. But it was a deliberate change of tack from coach and captain at a crucial juncture in this series and their respective roles. But it was a notable utterance from Silverwood who has otherwise been genial, during his tenure, arguably to a fault.
We will find out how much of an impact this has had come Boxing Day in Melbourne. Changes to personnel are expected for the third Test with the openers, middle order and bowling attack. But none of those will make a difference without a shift in attitude, which is perhaps the only thing Silverwood can control right now.