Rob Key keen to free up ‘pathway’ to help home-grown English coaches after McCullum and Mott appointments

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England and Rob Key turned to Kiwi great Brendon McCullum as their new Test coach  (PA)
England and Rob Key turned to Kiwi great Brendon McCullum as their new Test coach (PA)

Today at Trent Bridge, England began their second Test under the leadership of Brendon McCullum, their first coach from New Zealand. In a week’s time, Matthew Mott, an Australian, takes charge of his first white-ball international, an ODI in the Netherlands.

The process to employ the pair was extensive, with plenty of names thrown about – but barely any were English.

Paul Collingwood, the assistant coach, came “very close” to the white-ball job, according to managing director Rob Key, who has also name-checked Richard Dawson, who heads up the “pathway” at the ECB, as impressing in the interview process.

But, really, it was a battle between overseas coaches, with South African Gary Kirsten, Aussie Simon Katich and Sri Lankan Mahela Jayawardene among the names framed.

Turning to overseas coaches to replace an Englishman (Chris Silverwood) is not unusual. The women’s team is currently coached by an Australian, Lisa Keightley, too. Such a move is hardly unique to cricket, as Sven-Göran Eriksson and Eddie Jones would attest.

England have employed a men’s cricket coach since the 1980s and it is an uncomfortable truth that the most successful periods have come under foreign coaches. The best were two Zimbabweans, Duncan Fletcher (1999-2007) and Andy Flower (2009-14), while Australian Trevor Bayliss delivered huge success in white-ball cricket.

The role and influence of a head coach in cricket is not as clearly defined as in other sports, and Key is an interesting individual to have run the process, having been what you could call a “coaching sceptic” down the years. He believes the sands are shifting, and that at the top level a “manager of people” is required, leaving technical coaching to specialist assistants. Eoin Morgan agrees. In an interview with Standard Sport recently, Morgan did not use the word coach once, instead opting for “manager”.

McCullum certainly fits that bracket, and the early part of his reign has been characterised by soundbites about making the players feel “10 feet tall” and everyone being “sat on the bus, looking in the same direction”.

It is easy to see Morgan following the same path on the franchise circuit when he retires but if he does, he would be unusual. The world of franchise cricket is awash with Aussie, South African and Kiwi coaches, but very few Englishmen. That is partly true because, until this generation of white-ball players, Englishmen have not been allowed to play too much franchise cricket; McCullum, for instance, became Kolkata Knight Riders coach having built an attachment with the place as a player.

The dominance of overseas coaches in T20 cricket was evident when the ECB appointed a full set of foreign coaches for its men’s teams in the first season. James Foster becomes the first Englishman to lead a team, Northern Superchargers, this year. He does so after working in the IPL and PSL.

With 18 counties, there is no shortage of opportunities for English coaches but clearly few are progressing beyond that level

With 18 counties, there is no shortage of opportunities for English coaches but clearly few are progressing beyond that level. The county setup can seem cosy, with players settling into jobs at the clubs they played for, and not leaving. Scarcity of opportunity in Australia’s men’s system, with just six states, forces prospective coaches to think outside the box.

"One of the problems in English coaching is that so few of our coaches have got that diverse experience range, they haven’t been all over the world,” Key told The Telegraph’s cricket podcast last week. “It’s the same in other sports. In football, these [foreign] managers have been all over the world, speaking their second language. They end up with these huge experience range that English coaches don’t necessarily have.”

Key compared Mott, who has been in charge of the all-conquering Australian women in recent years but also gained experience everywhere from Glamorgan to Kolkata, with Collingwood, who has only been in the England environment. He joined upon retirement and his head coaching CV is limited to a couple of stints as interim boss this year.

Australian Matthew Mott is taking over England’s white-ball teams, having had much success all over the world (Getty Images)
Australian Matthew Mott is taking over England’s white-ball teams, having had much success all over the world (Getty Images)

“Matthew Mott has coached in so many different fields,” he said. “He is so much further along in his coaching journey because of what he’s had to do.”

There seems no reason why there should not be more coaches knocking down the door at international level in England.

“They might not necessarily be the ones coaching, but there are a lot of people who would make very good coaches,” said Key. “At some point we have to ask why we haven’t got a list of 15 names? We have more coaches in this country than anywhere else, with 18 first-class counties. And we haven’t got an obvious list of candidates.”

English cricket has a rigorous coaching “pathway”, culminating in an exclusive qualification that takes years and costs thousands to achieve. What was once called Level 4 is now the “Specialist Programme”. It costs £6,575 plus VAT and takes a minimum of two years, with the ECB describing it as “sitting just below degree level”. The qualification beneath that, the Advanced Programme (formerly Level 3), costs £1,250 plus VAT.

While the ECB are doing admirable work to diversify this qualification, it has certainly been a barrier to entry in the past, with opportunities in the media or even outside the game better paid and more swiftly achievable for players upon retirement. Those who do make the top have had to jump through a lot of hoops to do so. Critics inside the game believe it can be too formulaic, and a box-ticking exercise.

Paul Collingwood was close to the white-ball job, but has no coaching experience outside England (Getty Images)
Paul Collingwood was close to the white-ball job, but has no coaching experience outside England (Getty Images)

“We can’t sit here and say we have the greatest coach education system in the world, and not employ any coaches,” said Key. “We have to look at everything. We can’t keep patting yourself on the back. How do we make it better?”

Key said on the podcast that the coaching pathway does not fall under his remit as MD. What he can do, though, is encourage English coaches to seek experience around the world. If they do, the next time the national team needs a new head coach, there might be a few more English candidates.

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