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The challenges facing Matthew Mott as England’s white-ball head coach

by Taha Hashim 5 minute read

Taha Hashim on what’s in store for Matthew Mott, England men’s new white-ball coach.

“I looked at the two roles and the white ball didn’t interest me as such because the team is flying,” Brendon McCullum told SENZ last week after he was announced as England’s new Test coach.

“They’ve got Eoin Morgan in there who is a very good friend of mine, who also, I know, has built a structure and a system which will continue well after he finishes playing. I wasn’t really interested in a cushy kind of gig.”

McCullum isn’t wrong. The Test job is the job right now. England have won one of their last 17 Tests, each loss bringing on a new sense of rock bottom. It would’ve been easier for McCullum to kick back and relax with his good mate in a white-ball set-up that has no place for panic and existential angst. Morgan’s steely gaze brings order, a definitive style of play and success. England are the reigning world champions in 50-over cricket. They were exhilarating in last year’s T20 World Cup until Jimmy Neesham exacted revenge for what happened in 2019.

So up steps Matthew Mott for the white-ball role. The 48-year-old won trophy after trophy as Australia women’s head coach during a seven-year stint. After inheriting a side that were defending world champions in both white-ball formats, he encountered early setbacks – defeat in the 2016 World T20 final was followed by a semi-final exit in the 2017 50-over World Cup. But supremacy followed. Australia have won every global title going since 2018 and put up a record-breaking streak of 26 consecutive ODI wins. Underpinned by a strong domestic structure, their strength in depth is unrivalled. Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry – legends of the game – were barely required with the bat when they put up a gargantuan total of 356-5 in the World Cup final this April. When it came time to defend that total, Alana King, who’d only made her international debut in late January, took three wickets. Mott helped a great Australian side become even greater.

This will be the task with England’s men: to turn excellence into domination. Seven years on from the start of Morgan’s white-ball revolution, there’s been a famous World Cup win but some near-misses, too. Carlos Brathwaite’s four sixes denied them a T20 title in 2016 and they were comprehensively beaten by Pakistan in the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy the following year. But there are opportunities to right some wrongs in the next 18 months. In Australia later this year, England will have another shot at becoming the first men’s side to hold both World Cups at the same time. In India next year, they’ll be gunning for another 50-over crown. Only the West Indies (1975 and 1979) and Australia (1999, 2003, 2007) have pulled off back-to-back World Cup wins in the men’s game. That would be some club to join.

Like Australia, Mott will have plenty of talent to work with. England’s white-ball depth was most visible last year when their entire ODI squad was replaced for a three-match series against Pakistan after a Covid-19 outbreak. The second-stringers came in and sealed a 3-0 win. A hectic calendar will stop Mott from regularly fielding England’s best XI, particularly while there is a focus on fixing those Test woes. But very rarely will he be short on quality back-ups to call upon.

So far, so good. It does seem rather cushy. But there are still issues to address. Of the XI that lost to New Zealand in last year’s T20 World Cup semi-final, only Liam Livingstone is under the age of 30. It won’t be long before illustrious names, ones who have been central to England’s limited-overs success in recent years, need replacing. At the front of this conversation is Morgan, whose struggle for form has been evident for some time now. Since the start of 2021, Morgan has hit 180 T20I runs at an average of 16.36 and strike rate of 108.43. While he still calls the shots, we can’t be that far from the end now. That’ll be when Mott – who has signed a four-year deal – has to really step up, overseeing a period of transition alongside a new captain.

He’ll have to play his part in a delicate balancing act, one that won’t be tilted in his favour to begin with. “What we did with everyone in the process, on both red and white ball, was make it very clear that this is how this is going to work – at times you may not get your best side,” said managing director of England men’s cricket Rob Key on Wednesday. “Especially in the white ball, at the start.” Fortunately, Mott and McCullum go way back. The former was assistant coach at Kolkata Knight Riders when the latter kicked off the first edition of the IPL with a stunning 73-ball 158*. “He [McCullum] was pleased when I said that it’s going to be Matthew Mott who’s got that job,” Key added.

There are more technical aspects to deal with too. Death bowling has proved costly for England in their last two T20 World Cup campaigns. England’s luxury of batting options means debate will continue to run over who should bat where in that 20-over line-up. Is there a way to fit the destructive Livingstone into England’s first-choice ODI team, particularly when his blend of offies and leggies could come in handy next year in India? These are minor points of contention, highlighting just how smoothly things have run in the white-ball sphere.

“I am fully aware that this team has been functioning well and part of my initial plan is to work with the playing group and support staff on how we can firstly maintain, then enhance, the success they have started to build over the past few years,” Mott said in a statement announcing his appointment. The platform is set for him to add a few more titles to that already glittering CV.

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