The Ashes have slipped away, but England still have more than just pride to play for. They will tell you there are World Test Championship points up for grabs, but so, too, is an opportunity to play party pooper, to draw a series and to give Bayliss a fine send-off. A week today, he will be on a plane home. But finishing with a win will not come easy. Australia woke from their Sunday celebrations clear that their task is not yet done.
Yesterday’s training session was one of a team with a job still to do. England can draw hope from the idea that they may rest Pat Cummins or Josh Hazlewood, but that will be tempered by the fact that Steve Smith has played two Tests in SE11 and scored centuries in both. A reminder that a triple-century — which we know by now is not beyond the realms of possibility — will give him the most prolific individual series of all time. Bayliss must be sick of the sight of him.
Even in his final Test, uncertainty remains over Bayliss’s best Test team and there will be another reshuffle if it is confirmed that Ben Stokes cannot bowl. One of Bayliss’s great frustrations is the belief that he just likes white-ball sloggers; he has long preferred the intricacies of Test cricket. The other misconception is that he is a soft touch, but when necessary he would rant and rave.
Bayliss’s England journey began when on April 13 2015, sat in a hotel room in Mumbai on an away trip for his Rajasthan Royals team, he received a call from a foreign number he did not recognise. It was Andrew Strauss, England’s new director of cricket.
The pair had never met, but Strauss had received the number from Paul Farbrace, Bayliss’s sidekick in Sri Lanka and now England assistant. They chatted for 45 minutes, then Strauss asked Bayliss if he was happy to be placed on the shortlist. Two days later, after consulting with his wife, he got back to Strauss and politely declined entering the process. He was quite happy with his lot.
Strauss had been so impressed on the call, though, that he was undeterred. A couple of days on, he called back again, this time with a full job offer. Without a tiresome recruitment process to go through, this was an offer Bayliss could hardly refuse, but as ever he was not rushed. He chewed it over, then accepted the offer.
It has been a rollercoaster ride ever since. Bayliss, describing himself as a harsh marker, gave himself just five out of 10. That does not do him justice: sure, the Test successes have only been intermittent — the Ashes at home and South Africa away under Alastair Cook at the start and beating India at home and Sri Lanka away towards the end.
But the white-ball rise, culminating in the World Cup win, has been very special. He believes that was an easier job, because of the lack expectation in England following the dismal World Cup in 2015. But, by empowering Eoin Morgan and providing a clear strategy, he has done it better than England fans could have hoped. Not that he wants to take any credit. It is only on the tough days that he has spoken. Do not expect a tell-all book from Bayliss, who remains a private man. There was an entertaining moment yesterday when he was asked about why he is not on social media.
“I’ve no desire to know what you’re doing and I’ve even less desire for you to know what I’m doing!” he said.
Bayliss has not been England’s greatest coach, but he has taken the game here to a place it had never been before. England’s players will be desperate to send him off in style. It is the sort of summer that deserves to end on a high.