England are set for a change of leadership after their managing director, Paul Downton, was sacked on Wednesday evening by the new England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive, Tom Harrison, after only 14 months in the job.
The national selector James Whitaker looks set to follow Downton through the exit door, with both men held to account for England’s disastrous group stage exit from the Cricket World Cup and a public-relations nightmare that has followed the decision to cancel Kevin Pietersen’s central contract in February last year.
The head coach, Peter Moores, currently in the Caribbean with the senior side, is understood to retain greater support at ECB board level and among the current players, despite struggling to produce results since being appointed for his second spell last April. “This doesn’t impact Peter Moores’ position at all. This is with respect to delivering an environment for the future,” Harrison said.
It is a swift and decisive move by Harrison, who began his job in January and on Thursday will present to the board the findings of his review into England’s harrowing World Cup campaign in Australia and New Zealand. Before that scheduled meeting, he informed Downton that his services would no longer be required and the position of MD had been made redundant.
Instead, the ECB will restructure its management with the creation of a new post of director of England cricket. The former England captain Michael Vaughan is known to be in the mix, although Harrison and the incoming chairman, Colin Graves, are aware that his lucrative media commitments may prove a stumbling block. “I’m always open to chats about the future of English cricket,” said Vaughan, when pressed on his interest during an appearance on Sky Sports News. “They’ve got my phone number.”
He expanded on the theme in his column for the Daily Telegraph, saying: “For the first time since retiring six years ago I am open to a conversation with the ECB. I am passionate about English cricket. I love the game and I always want England to move forward and be successful. I have a vision for the game and I think I will be one of many ex-players who will be more than willing to talk to the ECB to see what exactly the role is and how much influence it will wield over the future structure of our game.”
Part of that vision apparently includes the rehabilitation of Pietersen. “Kevin is back playing county cricket and he has to be in a system where players are judged on performance,” Vaughan said. “If he is one of the top seven batsmen in England by the time the Ashes start then England have to consider him. It is about picking teams to win games. People have to be old enough and mature enough to look each other in the eye and say we have messed up.”
Another former England captain, Nasser Hussain, however, ruled himself out. “I have been asked if I would like to take on Downton’s job and the short answer is ‘no’. I will do anything I can to help the ECB and English cricket but there are far better candidates than me out there,” he said in the Daily Mail.
Harrison, a former broadcasting rights expert at the IMG media company, has been working with Graves on a shakeup of English cricket since replacing David Collier at the start of the year, with the domestic structure and the bloated National Academy at Loughborough both high on his to-do list.
But the 43-year-old was forced to act first on the senior men’s side after witnessing such a disastrous World Cup from afar, and that after Alastair Cook’s replacement as one-day captain on the eve of the tournament by Eoin Morgan on the eve of the tournament.
“The England cricket department needs to deliver performance at the highest level and our structure needs to be accountable for reaching the standards we aspire to,” said Harrison, in a statement on Wednesday that explained the decision to remove Downton. “The new role we are putting in place will deliver an environment where world-class performance is at the heart of everything we do.
“Paul is a man of great integrity who has worked extremely hard to make a difference at the ECB,” added Harrison. “He joined at a very difficult time, but under his leadership the Test team have made significant strides. We thank him for his hard work, drive and determination and wish him every success for the future.” Asked later whether Downton’s removal could facilitate a return for Pietersen, Harrison added: “This is not about that issue. Today is about the future of cricket. Today is about where this organisation is set to go over the next four to five years.
“Today has been a very tough day for the ECB and we’ve made a tough decision on a highly respected member of staff but ultimately we’re doing that with the future in mind and with absolute commitment to deliver change through the game which puts us on a sound footing to broaden our audience and to deliver successful England teams.”
Downton was originally appointed to replace the departing Hugh Morris in October 2013 after a post-playing career in the City but did not officially start his role until February the following year, by which time England had endured a train-wreck 5-0 Ashes whitewash. His first act, at the behest of his employer, was the controversial decision to remove Pietersen from the set-up, resulting in the batsman’s central contract being paid up in full. Under the terms of the severance package both the ECB and Pietersen were bound by a confidentially agreement until the end of September.
But later that summer Downton was forced to issue a public apology to the batsman after an interview with BBC’s Test Match Special, in which he claimed Pietersen had been “disinterested” and “distracted” during his final Test in Sydney and that the senior players supported the move to remove him.Downton’s final PR disaster came after the World Cup, when he admitted he was “struck by the influence of Twenty20 cricket” on the 50-over game during a run-soaked tournament. It showed a man out of touch with the modern game. Whitaker, who replaced Geoff Miller as national selector in October 2013, has also struggled in front of the cameras and a bungled interview given to the BBC, when announcing the squad for the Caribbean last month, is understood to have been queried behind closed doors.
“It’s inevitable there would be change – but there’s a deeper rooted problem within England cricket,” said the former captain Vaughan on Wednesday. “Removing one man doesn’t make us go in the direction of being the No1 side in the world.
“A cultural change needs to happen. In Test cricket we are all right but the Kevin Pietersen issue has been a debacle from the start right through until now. The World Cup was a disaster because of the way the team played. Many fingers were pointed at the backroom team but 15 players didn’t play to the standard they’d expect and it’s important they take responsibility.
“This is going back 20 years. We’re dated and always chase the game. Teams like South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and India are some distance away from the way England are playing at the moment.”
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