There has been a lot of talk since England lost in the West Indies about how the Test team move forward — and I’ve been one of a few to say, with a heavy heart, that Joe Root should no longer be in charge.
But make no mistake: the side don’t suddenly get better if Root’s no longer captain. There are deep-rooted problems to be solved in the English red-ball game — from the pitches to the number of divisions in the County Championship, from the type of ball to the standard of coaching.
You can’t always blame county cricket when England are 60 for six yet again; it’s the players who are making a mess of it, after all. But my gut feeling is that the new director of cricket, the new coach and the new captain will have to provide some straight talking, a bit of honesty and plenty of steel.
With a heavy heart, I believe that England Test skipper Joe Root should no longer be in charge
The best candidate is all-rounder Ben Stokes — so long as he’s in the right frame of mind
When Duncan Fletcher took over as coach in 1999, after we’d gone bottom of the rankings, he said to me: ‘We’re not the best side in the world, but we shouldn’t be the worst.’ It’s the kind of bluntness we need now.
Let’s start with the director of cricket, who in my view has to have a good understanding of the grassroots game in this country. He has to understand the issues that are holding our players back. And, most importantly, he has to get the big decisions right.
Look at Andrew Strauss a few years ago. He could have sacked Eoin Morgan as the one-day captain after the disastrous 2015 World Cup, but he stayed with him, then appointed Trevor Bayliss as coach, because he realised the players wanted someone in charge who wasn’t going to be in their face the whole time. The rest is history.
I’ve heard my Sky colleague Rob Key has applied, which would be a big loss for us, because he’s a brilliant broadcaster, but a real gain for English cricket. He always speaks sense — off the camera as well as on it. He won’t do fancy PowerPoint presentations or use management speak, but he has the ear of the players and he understands what they have to deal with.
Often, he will come off a commentary stint and get a couple of messages from county players saying ‘thanks for appreciating what we’re going through’. I think it also helps that he has young kids who play the game; he understands it from the bottom up.
Of course, his closeness to the players can also be a weakness. There will be times when he is going to have to say no to them, and in this era of player power — where at the back of your mind you’re always worried they’ll pick up their bag and head off to the T20 franchises — that can be tricky. But he’s a smart bloke and he’ll learn.
My Sky colleague Rob Key would be a real gain for English cricket as director of cricket
In terms of the coach, it’s going to be hard to persuade a big name already involved in franchise cricket to commit to a full-time role, so I’d work on the basis that the job will be split between the Test team and the white-ball sides.
For me, there is no finer brain in cricket at the moment than Ricky Ponting, who reads the game so well. One minute he’s on commentary highlighting the problems with Australian all-rounder Cameron Green’s technique, the next Green is getting out exactly as Ponting predicted.
The new coach has to be someone the players respect; the dressing room has been a bit too nice in recent years. And, my goodness, if the batters in that England team aren’t going to listen to what Ponting has to say about technique, then why are they playing the game?
Not all greats of the game become good coaches, because they’re not sure how to get their message across. Ponting doesn’t have that problem.
But because I can’t see him wanting to commit to a year-round gig — if he wants to commit at all — then we have to split the role. And there’s no reason why Paul Collingwood can’t be in charge of the white-ball team.
There is no finer brain in cricket at the moment than Ricky Ponting – he should be Test coach
There’s no reason why Paul Collingwood can’t be in charge of the white-ball team
Another option would be to ask Morgan what his plans are, as he might want to go into coaching. I think he’d work well with Jos Buttler, who seems likely to replace him as captain.
Then we come to the Test captaincy. Like I said, it can no longer be Root, who wasn’t a terrible captain but has been part of the decision-making process that has reached some strange conclusions in recent years — be it selection at Ahmedabad, Brisbane and Adelaide, or leaving out Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad from the tour of the West Indies.
Ben Stokes would also need to decide if he can add to his burden of being an all-format player
The best candidate is Ben Stokes — so long as he’s in the right frame of mind. Whoever becomes director of cricket needs to get straight up the A1 and talk to him to find out how he’s shaping because, trust me, captaining England requires total commitment. It’s the best job in the world but you can’t do it if your thoughts are elsewhere.
Stokes would also need to decide if he can add to his burden of being an all-format player but I’d have no doubts about his cricket brain.
The way he worked out the run-chases in the World Cup final and the Headingley Test prove that. He also knows how to handle the players. When he speaks, they listen. Like Ponting, he has an aura.
If Stokes isn’t in the right place, then England may have to consider a short-term fix, such as Stuart Broad taking over for a year or so. Again, he is someone with a good cricket brain, and he’s a winner.
People talk about bringing in an outsider such as Sam Billings or Tom Abell, but you need to warrant your place as a player.
So my dream team — assuming they all want their respective jobs, of course — is Rob Key as director of cricket, Ricky Ponting as Test coach with maybe Paul Collingwood in charge of the white-ball teams, and Ben Stokes as captain.
There are no guarantees in sport, but that trio would give England more than a fighting chance of moving back up the rankings again.