England’s first ODI against Sri Lanka saw one of the most important events in the history of English cricket. Nope, not James Tredwell once again destroying a top class batting lineup, but instead the first proper public interview for the new managing director, Paul Downton, in which he talked to Jonathan “Agnew” Aggers about all things England. That interview is available on the Test Match Special podcast thingy (somewhere – we couldn’t actually find a link to it due to the unfathomably shite layout of the BBC website, but it’s definitely on iTunes), and is a perfectly acceptable way to pass 53 minutes of your time. Unless you actually have something better to do, such as the washing up, trying to track down Margot Robbie or getting a team of bumbling amateurs promoted on Nintendo Pocket Football Club.
The first big plus for Paul Downton is that he doesn’t speak in Peter Moores-esque buzzword bingo fashion, avoiding management speak and generally not sounding like a complete cock. Which means we already prefer him to Michael Vaughan. Beyond that though, it’s all a bit flat. While he actually sounds like a human, rather than someone just quoting from the Penguin book of consultancy, that still doesn’t make him all that interesting. Indeed, we suspect that Agnew was actually talking with actor Hugh Bonneville.
The main issue discussed is – shock horror! – the axing of Kevin Pietersen. Downton’s view is disappointingly bland – Pietersen wasn’t exactly popular in the dressing room and basically didn’t give a fuck, without actually doing anything that bad. There’s no dramatic reveal or shocking revelation, no smoking gun or robot Kevin Pietersen faking his own murder to convince the universe that’s he really gone, for reasons that will never properly be explained. Unfortunately, with the KP story having dragged on for months, there’s still no real meat on the bones. We will have to await the end of the gagging clauses later this year and see what Pietersen has to say. Our money’s on it being a considered, well thought out response.
On the subject of Andy Flower, Downton has a bit more room for manoeuvre, but again keeps his cards pretty close to his chest. He’s effusive with his praise for England’s former coach – something worth remembering as people queue up to slate his entire tenure based on how it ended, rather than the bit in the middle where England reached the number one ranking, won three Ashes, a world T20 and a series in India – but much less so for Ashley Giles. Which is probably fair, given the rubbish job the latter actually did.
Where things get a little muddled is around the direction England have taken over the last twelve months or so. The move towards a more negative, defensive style of cricket is acknowledged but absolutely no link is made to captain Alastair Cook, who gets only praise for being an inspiring sort of chap, or Flower, both of them largely escaping the blame for the Ashes debacle. In fact, it seems that no-one is to blame for England being a complete laughing stock, bar those pesky Australians.
The topic of weakened England sides playing ODIs comes up, as does the role of county cricket in terms of feeding the national side and Downton sticks pretty tightly to the party line – the county game is important, there are opportunities for players without central contracts and so on – without really adding anything that we haven’t heard at least a hundred times before.
There’s a bit of talk about missing players, particularly Trott and Prior, and that’s pretty much it. For all his talents, Agnew isn’t exactly Jeremy Paxman when it comes to interviewing (not unless he asks Pietersen “did you threaten to overrule Flower?” 12 times) and the whole thing has the ambiance of a nice cosy chat in the commentary box over a cup of tea and some biscuits. Plus a cake sent in by regular listener Bunty Hoven. Where were the difficult questions about England suddenly being a massive shower?
Based on what we heard, it’s clear that the changes to the management of English cricket represent gentle evolution rather than a complete revolution. As the Who sang before one of them was placed on the sex offenders register – meet the new boss, the same as the old boss. Mind you, they also sang ‘look, he’s crawling up my wall, black and hairy, very small, now he’s up above my head, hanging by a little thread, Boris the spider’, so what do they know?