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Ashes 2021/22

How England passed over Gary Kirsten for Chris Silverwood in their 2019 head coach search

by Wisden Staff 5 minute read

With Chris Silverwood under fire in his position as England head coach, and Gary Kirsten giving several interviews saying he feels he has something to offer the current set-up, there has been much talk about the decision to pass over the latter in favour of the former by the ECB in 2019.

Kirsten was originally the favourite to be offered the job. His CV includes taking both India and South Africa to the top of the ICC Test rankings, with the former also winning the 2011 World Cup under his stewardship. He has not served as a coach of any country since 2013.

Silverwood had a less decorated record, but had experience in the England dressing room, having served as bowling coach under Trevor Bayliss. He had also enjoyed success as Essex coach, with the Chelmsford-based side becoming the country’s leading first-class team under his watch.


Speaking on talkSPORT’s Following On Cricket Podcast last year, Kirsten opened up on the application process, revealing that he felt the interview was a “token” one when he initially met up with the ECB.

“It was a very weird process,” he said. “I couldn’t get my head round this England job. You know, it’s very prestigious to be offered a job of that nature. When I left the shores of South Africa, I kind of had in my head that ‘I’m going for a token interview, they actually want to give me the job’.

“But then in the interview I was really honest. I presented what I saw from the outside and said, ‘It’s very difficult to give you a vision without knowing the team or knowing the players, but this is what I see from the outside and how I could potentially add value’.

“I thought the interview went really well in terms of my honesty in the situation and what I felt I could add. And then Ashley phoned me the next day and we had another chat, and that was it. And then they gave Chris the job.”

Kirsten’s lack of coaching since 2013 is down in part to his desire to spend time with his family, and he explained how he felt a split coaching role, with different people in charge of the Test and white-ball sides, was the way forward, a view not shared by those at the ECB at the time.

“I discussed it with Debs, my wife, a lot and we said ‘Well hold on we’ve been out of this space for five years, six years, and it is a tough journey as an international coach’. But then we kind of justified it by saying ‘Well our kids are older now, maybe it will be a great opportunity for our middle son James to move into high school there,’ so there were a lot of things we thought about and justified that it would be worth going to.

“I told them, ‘There are a couple of challenges with my family and we’re going to have to navigate that and work it out’. I’ve always been an advocate as a coach for having different coaches for different formats, only because I think coaches are under the pump with their families, because coaches are much younger these days. It’s not easy to navigate through these long international seasons. Obviously the England set up wanted me to do the whole lot and then to buy me some periods of time when I could go home and be with my family, so I thought ‘maybe we can go down that road’.”

There have been plenty of suggestions that Silverwood’s presentation was superior to Kirsten’s.

“Instead of an all-singing powerpoint presentation of the kind that goes down so well in the corporate world, [Kirsten] depicted himself as someone who would get the job done once appointed,” Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth wrote in the Daily Mail.

However, Kirsten explained how Silverwood, in his opinion, was always the preferred candidate for the ECB.

“Chris was a very strong candidate as well, that’s why it was the two of us,” he said. “I didn’t realise that they were thinking of him very seriously so I actually think it was the other way. I think they wanted Chris to do the job but if I arrived and I was convincing enough they might have offered it to me. But I was thinking they were going to offer me the job. It’s not a bad thing that I didn’t get the job anyway.”

Ashley Giles, managing director of England men’s cricket, justified Silverwood’s appointment on the basis of his “values and beliefs”.

“The values and the beliefs that Chris holds are really in keeping with the culture we are trying to produce in this team and deliver,” he said. “Everyone knows that that’s been an ongoing process in the last two or three years particularly. That continues and I’m absolutely sure Chris is the right man to take it forward.”

At the time of Kirsten’s talkSPORT interview, the England Test team seemed to be flourishing under Silverwood. “It’s always nice to be offered it but Chris is well suited to the role and he seems to be doing a great job with the team now,” Kirsten said.

The trend continued up until the second Test against India in India. At that point, England had won nine Tests and lost just three with Silverwood at the helm. Since then, however, a dramatic reversal of fortunes, and a collective loss of form with the bat, has seen them slip to nine defeats in 12 Tests, with a solitary victory.

Speaking to Wisden recently, Kirsten discussed what he felt were the issues within English cricket, and explained his desire to get involved with the team.

“When I was at The Hundred, I asked six or seven people what they thought the England Test team’s top six should be and no one gave me the same answer. That was a real indication to me of the fact that England don’t understand what their top six is. That would be a massive cause for concern,” he said. “I don’t know all the answers but I’d love to be involved in the discussion.”

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