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As the knives point towards Chris Silverwood after England succumbed to a dismissal Ashes defeat following just 12 days of play across three Tests, it is probably worth reflecting how he ended up in charge of men’s team in the first place.
As he stumbled through platitudes after Australia had made it 3-0 with a humiliating innings and 14-run victory at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, he looked a man woefully out of his depth. But Silverwood was there on merit.
His appointment at the end of the 2019 summer, having worked as the bowling coach and assistant to Trevor Bayliss for the previous 18 months, was with a view to shoring up the Test side. A task thought to be well within his capabilities given how he transformed Essex to a dominant four-day side, leading them to promotion and then the County Championship title in 2017 for the first time in 25 years.
Over two years later, it’s clear that has not worked. Across Silverwood’s 27 Tests, there have been 12 defeats, of which nine have come in 2021 – the joint worst for any team in history. All the talk of building a robust side with a clear vision have shown themselves to be false. The notion he might be the antidote to England’s struggles in the longest format well and truly skewered in devastating fashion.
That Silverwood was appointed as the sole selector back in April, a reshuffle that ousted the existing national selector Ed Smith, has made him a bigger target. But it’s his misgivings as coach that will ultimately seal his fate.
Any sadness at how this had panned out centres around Silverwood as a person. He is affable and well-meaning. Much like his predecessor Bayliss, he is an arm-around-the-shoulder type, rarely getting out the hairdryer. Apart from in Adelaide after the second Test when he read the team extracts from the riot act. And that, really, has been the biggest problem of all.
When Bayliss was the good cop, Silverwood was more or less the same as his general, albeit with a greater presence, particularly with the bowlers. As such, his popularity with the players has never been questioned. Indeed, many still vouch for him. But his personal touch has arguably been to a fault given how many established batters have been allowed to fester and not perform to acceptable standards, beyond captain Joe Root.
There were clues things would end up this way, even when director of men’s cricket Ashley Giles hailed Silverwood as “the standout candidate”, after he had beaten higher profile names like Gary Kirsten to the role. Giles went on to praise Silverwood’s “intimate understanding of our structures and systems and his close relationships”.
Maybe that is why he has given the Test side too much rope, and why he has kept faith with many of the same cricketers who continue to learn nothing from their mistakes. But having afforded those under him the benefit of the doubt, Silverwood is drowning in it.
His post-match interviews after day three had concluded well before lunch have drawn widespread derision from fans and cricketers past and present. He told BT Sport “there are positives coming out of it” and followed up with a similar message to the written media, just hours after England had been snuffed out for 68. A live-action representation of the “this is fine” meme as the Test side burns down around him.
Taking a step back, it is clear his intention was to not pour more scorn onto an already torched group. And though he knows the end his nigh, he was unwilling to focus on how things might pan out.
“Worrying about myself is at the bottom of the list to be honest,” Silverwood said. “What we have to do is look forward to the next two Tests, stay positive if we can and make sure we are there, we compete and we take something from this tour.”
It could well be that Silverwood’s most important work comes in these final weeks. England must see out the remaining two Tests with dignity. Some will be rounding off their last days as Test cricketers, but it is vital the struggling players with time on their side, such as Haseeb Hameed and Ollie Pope, do not end up as collateral. Silverwood’s personability could go some way to ensuring their scars are kept to a minimum.
Going forward, the whole system needs a refresh. Harsh truths need to be spoken, maybe even a few noses put out of joint. A desperate defeat such as this after two years of “planning” must be followed by strong action. Something which Silverwood has been unable to provide.