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Chris Silverwood makes his grand entrance

Phil Walker by Phil Walker 5 minute read

Chris Silverwood’s inexorable rise from freshman county coach to the top job came to fruition at Lord’s in his first press conference as the head coach of the England men’s team, writes Wisden Cricket Monthly editor-in-chief Phil Walker.

In the makeshift press room at HQ, the goodwill towards one of the English game’s true workhorses was palpable. At this stage, in these first honeymoon flushes before a ball has been bowled, there is much in the appointment to get behind. While his route to becoming only the second English coach this century may have been swift – thus leapfrogging other candidates with much deeper CVs – his appointment reflects an urgency to grasp the moment.

After flipping Essex from a “red-ball rabble” (Ashley Giles) into four-day county champions in the space of two years before taking a job as England’s bowling coach, he’s built a reputation for fairness and consistency, traits which have underscored useful existing relationships with the current squad. Giles made no secret of the fact that Silverwood’s awareness of “how the system works” put him in a strong position during an interview process in which each candidate was interviewed for 90 minutes.

Much as the playing squad to New Zealand contains a handful of fresh new faces, so the coach in relative terms is also a tyro: young, hungry and ferociously committed to a job he still seems faintly stunned to have been given. Silverwood may have been wearing the England badge for two years, but this is a more radical appointment than it seems.

Such occasions as this, of course, will always feature plenty of talk about “values” and “culture”, “environment” and “beliefs” – the touchstones of every modern coach’s “philosophy”. It’s not easy suppressing a smirk when a coach describes himself as “quite chilled out”, driven by a desire to make their players “spread their wings and fly”. But for all the jargon traps, what came across in Silverwood’s first foray in the spotlight – and he acknowledges that the media game will be another swift learning curve – was his sincerity. Coaches these days don’t rule by fear; indeed, they don’t rule at all. Instead they tend to coax and cajole, projecting a kind of avuncular reliability. Silverwood has it in spades. “The one thing for me,” he says, “is to make sure that I’m consistent with the players, so they know what they’re getting from me.”

Authenticity is essential. “When you’re saying things, they need to know that you’re saying things for the right reasons – you’re saying it because you care, because you want the best for them. That’s ultimately what I do.

“People are at the centre of my coaching philosophy and seeing them do well with their dreams and what they’re trying to do, that makes me smile. That’s why I do it, know what I mean? I want to create self-thinking and self-sufficient cricketers who go out there and are successful. If we can do that, it’ll make me smile.”

In further evidence that the age of the ego-coach is dead, Silverwood is of the modern breed, existing for his players. From his time as Trevor Bayliss’ understudy he will admit to having seen “little glimpses of things what maybe you’d want to change”. But he is, overall, an avowed continuity appointment, looking to build on what’s already there. “The relationships built between the players, coaches and backroom staff will hopefully enable us to do [those changes] seamlessly,” he says.

Addressing the Test team’s inconsistencies, he says, is his No.1 job, and he’s already spoken to the captain. “I wanted to make sure that Joe and I are aligned, how we want to take things forward. We want batsmen to bat time and we want a bowling attack that’s absolutely relentless.” Relatedly, he spoke of Dominic Sibley – “Let’s make sure that when this guy comes in, we strip that pressure away and give him a chance, and hopefully what we’ll find is that the runs he’s been scoring in county cricket he brings into Test cricket.”

He spoke, too, about Ben Stokes. Barely an hour goes by without his name cropping up. If Silverwood didn’t know before that Stokes is now a big part of the daily news churn, then he will now. Adeptly, he turned yet another question on Stokes into an assessment of fitness levels within the squad, and how the counties can assist in bringing up the overall standard.

“My relationship with Ben is very good, he’s a leader on the pitch, he’s been inspirational this summer. He’s got the hardest job in that he’s an all-rounder, but he manages his time very well. If I wanted to be an international cricketer, then what would I need to do? The way he trains is phenomenal. Wouldn’t it be nice if it became the standard, if the fitness levels all went to there [Stokes’ level], or as close to him as we can? You’ll keep your players on the park for longer – you saw it with Australian bowling attack this summer, they were fit, they were strong, they were relentless. How can we get that message from us all the way down to the counties? We want to speak to the counties to ensure that the same messages are going through.”

In the end, Silverwood’s attachments to the county set-up just shaded it. He knows he is blazing a rarely-trodden trail for English coaches. “The support from the English coaches out there has been phenomenal in the last few days,” he says. “If it gives them the aspiration to say, ‘Well, If he can do it, I can do it’, then fantastic, why not?”

If it still feels mildly surreal for Chris Silverwood to find himself sitting in this chair, then reality will soon be kicking in. England’s Test team sits No.4 in the world rankings – there is his job right there. And of course, while he didn’t want to dwell on it, knowing all the cricket to be played in the interim, the endgame, as ever, is all too real. “In two years, we go back to Australia…” The work starts now.

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