It’s hard not to feel just a little bit sorry for the ECB. They were so close, so damn close, to having everything fall perfectly into place. A big Sky contract, cushy jobs for all their best mates and their sworn enemy banished to the furthest ends of the earth. Things were looking pretty good. But they forgot just one small detail: the English cricket team is complete balls. Ordinarily that’s the sort of thing that can be shrugged off – as long as the money is coming in people who point out unfortunate details like rubbish performances and nonsensical selections can be safely ignored as occupying the lunatic fringe typically populated by internet bloggers. But this time things are so bad, even the cosy apparatchiks in the media have been unable to avoid drawing unfortunate conclusions as to the English team’s ability, or lack thereof.
Faced with such a scenario it’s easy to imagine that the ECB might at last bite the bullet and take the measures necessary to improve the pitiful performances that have been delivered in its name. Easy, but probably wrong. The ECB is not likely to be jolted out of its stupor just yet. But, hypothetically speaking, if the ECB were to actually focus on the English cricket team for once and decide that on-field matters were more important than off-field ones, who would they bring in to turn things around?
Right now Australian coaches seem to be en vogue, largely because of the success wrought by Darren Lehmann after the head honchos at Cricket Australia found themselves in a similar predicament, and realised that trying to tip toe around the team’s awful performances for much longer was likely going to end up in their being shot. Or worse, replaced by Shane Warne. So they made the difficult choice of bringing in someone who had been, to date, one of their fiercest critics. It’s hard to imagine the ECB bringing in someone who did not have a track record of saying only nice things about them in the past, let alone an Australian critic. But for the purposes of this article we are going to imagine that, perhaps after falling down a flight of stairs and hitting his head, Colin Graves decides that appointing a coach on the basis that they are the best person for the job, not just the most agreeable to him personally (yes we know, it’s a stretch, but just imagine that it was a really long flight of stairs), regardless of nationality, which Aussie should they pick?
Jason Gillespie is the obvious first choice; proven success in England, plus he and his family live in Leeds. It’s not surprising his name has been thrown around a lot recently. There is, however, one big problem. He doesn’t seem to actually want the job. At least, not right now. Gillespie’s comments to the press after being linked with the position of English coach were about as definitive a rejection as you could find, short of him pissing himself laughing and declaring it was going to be a cold day in hell (not unimaginable if you’ve ever been to Leeds) before he was going to volunteer to clean up that mess. Gillespie clearly has his mind on things other than coaching England right now. There is the new season with Yorkshire, plus he’s also been extremely vocal about coaching in the Big Bash at the end of the year. It appears at the moment Gillespie is purely focused on increasing his experience of coaching at domestic level.
Another option is Michael Hussey, who despite lacking Gillespie’s relevant experience, seems set to become an international coach in the near future. For now, that looks most likely to be with India, where Dhoni has been making eyes at him for some time, and he is seen as a possible replacement for Duncan Fletcher. Another potential choice is Ricky Ponting, again another who is currently expanding his horizons, currently as head coach for the Mumbai Indians, and looks to have a long future in coaching circles ahead of him. Plus he seems happy to pop along to the Sky studios, which must carry plenty of credits for him.
There is a fourth option though, one that is, in our opinion, the best candidate of all: Justin Langer. Langer has, in two years, completely turned around West Australian cricket after it appeared to be on the brink of imploding after the Marsh brothers (amongst others) seemingly spent an entire Champions League campaign in South Africa smashed out of their faces. Not only has Langer turned both their fortunes around, with both now regulars for the Australian Test team, he has also nurtured a wide variety of talent, such as Jason Behrendorff and Sam Whiteman. He has even brought Ashton Agar back to the brink of Test selection, which is surely the sign of a true miracle worker. Currently West Australia are the reigning domestic one day and T20 champions, and after losing last year’s Sheffield Shield Final look set to take this year’s.
But perhaps Langer’s best achievement has been his ability to get the best out of old stagers. Marcus North, Brad Hogg and Adam Voges have all undergone late career renaissances at his hands, to the extent that Hogg is in this year’s IPL and Voges stands a good chance of being named in the Ashes squad later this year. This ability to manage both emerging players and veterans is exactly what England require right now, and it would make sense if the ECB took all the cash out of the enormous jar labelled ‘Sky TV money’ and threw it in Langer’s direction.
Beyond the ECB’s inherent reluctance to appoint someone from outside of their own cosy little world though, the biggest hurdle is whether Langer would even want the job. The travel involved is of course always one consideration, but a greater one is the fact that it appears, at the moment, fairly certain that one of Gillespie and Langer will be Lehmann’s successor in the Australian setup. It’s just a question of which one, and the timing of Lehmann’s retirement. Given the trajectory of his international coaching career so far, it’s not too difficult to imagine Lehmann burning himself out before too long, and both likely would want to be in a position to stake their respective claims when that happens.
The ECB’s best course of action in this scenario would be to make to either an offer of such magnitude that they would find it difficult to refuse. Of course, part of such an offer would necessarily need to entail complete control over team matters, such as Lehmann was able to extract from Cricket Australia. The ECB would never grant that sort of freedom so this is, of course, all purely hypothetical (particularly whilst Flower continues to haunt the joint). But if they actually did care about England’s performances, weren’t deluded into thinking that last year’s turnaround against India was somehow some brave new dawn, and seriously believed that they could compete for the 2019 World Cup on home turf, let alone conceive winning the thing, appointing one or the other would make perfect sense.
Which is why, of course, it couldn’t possibly ever happen.