Pringle column: Bold new approach is a silver lining for England

By Derek Pringle

England’s bowling deficiencies in the recent Ashes series will be addressed by an old fast bowler, as the team prepares to move forward from what has been a chastening few months.

It is 15 years since Chris Silverwood, now 42, played the last of his six Tests for England, but he renews his acquaintance with them now as the side’s new bowling coach, with much work to do following another meltdown in Australia.

Silverwood’s appointment last November will have surprised many, but not those at Essex. As the county’s head coach, he oversaw not only their promotion to Division One in 2016, but their Championship victory the very next season. For many, it was the definition of stardust, which is why England came calling once Ottis Gibson left to become South Africa’s head coach at the end of last summer.

It is probably a premature notion, given he has only just started his new role, but Gibson’s promotion will not have gone unnoticed by Silverwood.

An organised and ambitious coach, Silverwood will also have noticed Trevor Bayliss’ intention to move on as England’s head coach after the 2019 Ashes. As per our front page of last week’s issue, it would be rude not to watch this space.

This job, although not as managerial as the one Silverwood held at Essex, will give him the necessary experience of international cricket and put him in the frame for promotion, something, presumably, not lost on Andrew Strauss when he appointed him. After all, Strauss, we learned the other day, had been told of Bayliss’ exit plans a year ago.

There would certainly be an appetite, as there always is, to appoint an England head coach born an Englishman, though such desire can lead to wrong-headed thinking as in the second appointment of Peter Moores (though not the first). Before that, though, Silverwood must excel as bowling coach and improve his charges, though even then his path to the top is likely to be buffeted by what Harold MacMillan called, “Events dear boy, events.”

As in his time with Essex, first thing’s first. Does he have what it takes to make England’s bowling attack better and more potent, especially overseas? In one sense, yes, as he played all of his Test matches overseas; in another, no, in that he took just 11 wickets. Like many bowlers raised in England, he didn’t do much with it if the seam didn’t grip.

He has, though, always been a thinking cricketer and they tend to learn more when things don’t go right than when they do. After several years of watching Essex wallow around in the second division, when he was assistant coach, he quickly managed to get all their cherries in a row, winning a County Championship nobody expected of them.

An excellent man-manager, his method is to present his players with a series of options from which they must choose the ones they want to use to improve, and those they wish to discard. He will neither mollycoddle nor be prescriptive, though he can, I’m told, be firm when he wants. Otherwise, he is a very personable fellow eager for the march of improvement to remain in forward motion.

(Photo: Stephen Pond/Getty Images)

It can be difficult for a former England bowler like him of modest playing achievements to suddenly have a respectful working relationship with two giants of bowling like James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

For instance, it would have been interesting to have seen Silverwood’s response, as a new coach, to Anderson’s claim during the Adelaide Test, that the coaches had not informed him and the other bowlers that they were bowling too short for the conditions. It was a laughable outburst from Anderson, who, with over 500 wickets to his name, should know when he is off beam by an inch let alone the eight to 10 feet he was out at Adelaide.

Even so, getting Anderson and Broad on side will be key, initially, for Silverwood, though the fact that both are in the autumn of their careers means he could have a clean slate to work with sooner than he thinks.

Before he engages them, he at least has a settling-in period with England’s white-ball teams, though given Australia’s prowess at home, it will not be an easy introduction.

One bowler he will be keen to work on is Chris Woakes, the heir to Anderson and Broad. A consummate pro, Woakes disappointed in the Ashes series with 10 wickets at 49, though he was not alone. Although not as tall as Josh Hazlewood, there is no other reason why Woakes should not have been as potent as the Australian, who took 21 wickets at 25.9. But he needs guidance and as such should be Silverwood’s first ‘project’.

A modern coach, in the sense that he uses technology, Silverwood is also old-fashioned in that he is happy for players to find their own solutions. Not for him the needy relationship.

Another plus, is that he is good at managing expectations, not only of the players, but of those up the chain of command. He will, therefore, not be telling his bosses what they want to hear.

My own memories of Silverwood go back to the early 1990s, when he was a net bowler at Headingley, giving players practice before Test matches.

He sprayed it a bit but kept running in, keen as any Yorkshire tyke has ever been and always eager for any tips, and not the monetary kind. That whole heartedness, to bowl fast and direct, transferred into a good career with Yorkshire, Middlesex and England, and has now influenced his coaching. Yet, he far from fulfils the stereotype of the big, dumb fast bowler, as Graham Gooch reveals when they were recruiting for his role at Chelmsford.

“When we interviewed for the head coach’s job at Essex, there was a widespread feeling that we needed to look for outside expertise, something that would have ruled out Chris,” said Gooch.

“But he was so switched on, pragmatic and passionate about how he wanted to take the club forward, that we were unanimous in our desire to give him the job. It was impressive.

“Obviously, it proved the right move for us. It isn’t often you get a coach who is popular, calm and gets the message over to players in a clear concise manner, but Chris does that. We are very sorry to lose him.”

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