‘He’s an all or nothing kind of guy’: Rob Key backed to have what it takes to turn England around

·5-min read
Rob Key has a lot of big decisions ahead  (PA Wire)
Rob Key has a lot of big decisions ahead (PA Wire)

Rob Key’s ready wit has made him a hit pundit in recent seasons.

But with England’s Test team approaching laughing-stock proportions, there will be some who question whether he’s the man to make the toughest decisions as England’s new managing director.

Those who know him best, though, think that despite his lack of managerial experience, it’s his ability to tell things how it is, that could prove his most potent tool in ending the kind of winless run that brings back painful memories for those old enough to recall an era where Test victories were as rare as prime ministerial resignations.

And if anyone doubted his determination, then Jimmy Adams, reckons that Key’s recent improvements on the golf course should provide a pretty good indicator of the talents he can bring to his new role.

“He’s an all or nothing kind of guy, he doesn’t do things by half – he won't give less than 100 per cent when he’s in this role,” says Adams, now West Indies’ director of cricket and Key’s coach at Kent for five years. “He’s finally got his golf handicap down to something approaching decent – and this was a man who hated golf when he was a player.

“I don’t play golf but I would beat him on the squash court, even though he was quite nimble for a big lad.”

Whether Key takes out driver or the goes more softly with the long iron as England look to emerge from their recent malaise, remains to be seen.

Whatever happens, Owais Shah, who played alongside Key as England won the Under-19 World Cup in 1998, is hoping that the England team reflects the values that the 42-year-old himself holds dear.

“Whoever Rob decides to bring in as a coach and a captain then we have to be patient, particularly if we see that the side is moving in the right direction,” says Shah, who played six Tests for England between 2006 and 2009.

“I just hope that Rob can get the captain to not reel off the same speech that all England captains seem to reel off [in the modern era]. They say that you have to take the positives but sometimes I think people appreciate it more if you tell the truth and turn around and say ‘we were rubbish’.

“You have to be honest about it. To hear Rooty say that there were positives from that West Indies series? I didn’t see any.

“I just hope that Rob can get rid of that kind of stuff. Rob is an honest guy and he’ll say it how it is – let’s have an end to monotone England cricketers’ interviews. Even before they’ve spoken, I know what they’re going to say. I would love to see Rob doing something about that.”

An interview with Key over the next few years is unlikely to be as bland, unless he leaves his principles at the door and becomes an establishment man rather than the peoples’ champion he has been painted as.

“The thing about Rob is that he’s passionate about English cricket because he knows that there’s a lot of talent in this country,” says Shah. “There is a lot of stuff that needs to be put right and he’ll see that as an opportunity – he'll know what he wants to be put in place to help these players.

"He’ll be a good man to have around the England team because he believes cricket should be played in the right manner.

“Don’t get me wrong, I think he has his work cut out. English cricket isn’t in such great nick, but I’m sure that he’ll come out and do all he can to put things right.”

Rob Key made almost 20,000 first class runs during his career and 15 Test appearances (PA)
Rob Key made almost 20,000 first class runs during his career and 15 Test appearances (PA)

Key’s lack of management experience could have been held against him but Adams is confident that the new man’s experience of captaining his county has provided him with many of the skills he needs to make an impact in a role that has become something of a poisoned chalice since its creation in 2007.

“He was an old school captain but he still communicated well with the younger lads – he connects well with people generally; he engages very well,” he says.

“And he’s going to need all those skills in his new role. Having got to the top of the tree as a player, he has made some pretty tough decisions along the way.

“The fact is he’s teachable and I’m sure the ECB will give him the support that he needs. The depth of his knowledge of cricket within the UK, and all his experience as a player and in the media, should be enough to get him off to a good start.

“I don’t think you’ll ever have any perfect candidates for the role he’s stepping into. He has to work out who he has and what he has to work with. There are challenges but I don’t think they’re insurmountable.”

Key can consider himself unlucky not to have played more than 15 Tests for his country as a player. After making his England bow against India in 2002, Key scored 775 runs at an average of 31 but never truly nailed down his place in the Test line-up. He, like Shah and countless others, was the victim of a sometimes scattergun selection policy. Finding a team, and having the patience to stick with it, will be one of the key issues for Key, his new coach and fresh skipper, to resolve.

Regardless of his improvement on the golf course, the major challenges will keep on coming. There are times when Key appears to have been born with a permanent smile on his face. If he's still wearing it by the end of the summer, then he will have done more things right than wrong.

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