Being a cricket coach is different compared to other major sports. In football and rugby, for example, the head coach calls the shots, explaining tactics and orders while also picking the side that he wants. Consequently, when it all goes wrong, they are to blame for their side’s failures and eventually they are the ones who lose their job.
So while the reality of being a head coach in those sports is one of extreme pressure and responsibility, the world of a head coach of a cricket side is a more subdued one. More often than not, they are behind the scenes letting the players be much more independent. They are more facilitators. The ones who quietly steady the ship. As a result, the brunt of the criticism does not often come their way.
When England were humiliated against South Africa at Trent Bridge, it didn’t take long for the players to be scrutinised. “The England batting has been appalling,” said Michael Vaughan post the defeat. “Maybe it’s a lack of respect about what the game is. They look like they are playing a T20 game. They have this approach of attack, attack, attack. There is no thought or feeling of seeing off a bowler or wearing a team down.”
Even though Vaughan’s comments could have been interpreted as being towards the England set up as a whole, he refused to specifically criticise the man, instead of the players, who is perhaps the real catalyst behind England’s supreme inconsistency in Test matches: head coach Trevor Bayliss.
Since he took charge of England back in 2015 Bayliss has constantly preached that his side plays a positive, aggressive brand of cricket, refusing to be bullied and instead take the game to the opposition in the process. While this method can be thoroughly entertaining when it works, it also holds back other crucial requirements needed in a side that aims to be world number one in the longest format.
Indeed, Bayliss probably didn’t tell Jonny Bairstow to run down the wicket and heave an ugly shot to mid-on when England needed to dig in on the fourth day. In addition, it is unlikely that he was behind Moeen Ali’s two wild dismissals in both innings or Joe Root’s loose drive when set in the first innings. And the fact that you could have driven a bus through the gap between Keaton Jennings’ bat and pad for his dismissal to Vernon Philander isn’t as a result of Bayliss instalment of a positive approach.
But there is a much wider context to all of this. As a result of England’s high-risk approach, they have found it very difficult to achieve any consistency in the Test arena – a feature so crucial to any team that aims to be the best in the world. And that is because they have become a one-dimensional side incapable of digging in and doing the hard work when required.
And despite the fact that Bayliss’s expertise has undoubtedly improved England one-day cricket, the Test side has stagnated due to their inconsistencies fuelled from their attacking approach. The idea that England need to beat the bowling into submission was bound to have been found out at some point and it certainly has now.
Of course, there have been some good moments. An Ashes series win, along with a 2-1 victory in South Africa represented tremendous achievements. Yet the 4-0 pummelling in India and a disappointing 2-2 draw at home to Pakistan last summer has meant that, despite the obvious talent at their disposal, England haven’t really moved forward at all. And the progression that Bayliss was meant to achieve has failed to happen.
The approach isn’t the only issue with Bayliss. He has admitted on several occasions before that he watches barely any county cricket and has not seen enough of the potential England Test prospects in the flesh. For example, Jos Buttler was given a Test recall purely through what Bayliss had seen of him in one-day cricket despite having played just one first-class game all season. He also revealed how little he has watched of Mark Stoneman – likely to be the next cab off the rank in terms of opening batsman.
What’s more, Bayliss’s coaching philosophy involves working behind the scenes and not offering much in terms of technical, physical or mental coaching for players. The fact that little, if any, opportunities have been given to specialist technical coaches such as Gary Palmer, Alastair Cook’s personal batting coach, also underlines the lack of certainty in appointing new coaching staff.
It is also known that Bayliss is not keen on having too much of a say in selection meetings and instead aims to focus on creating a positive environment around the team. While that can be a good thing, it isn’t enough to support any case towards Bayliss being a crucial part of this England set up.
So while England aren’t in a bad place when it comes to Test cricket, they certainly are not firing on all cylinders. Having talent and bravery is good but it only gets you so far. The longest form of the game also requires skill, intelligence, pragmatism and patience. And England seem to be lacking in those areas currently.
So what would be the solution? Well, due to England’s major improvement in the white ball game since the disastrous 2015 World Cup campaign, it would be foolish to relive Bayliss of those duties. However, the option of having split coaches could be one worth looking at. It didn’t quite work out the last time England went down that route when Andy Flower was the Test coach and Ashley Giles took over the one-day duties in 2012. Yet that was down to a power struggle and it would be wise to think the same issues wouldn’t happen again, should England go down that path.
Although Bayliss’s CV is impressive, it lacks any significant experience of coaching in Test cricket for a long period of time. The Test side needs a disciplinarian, someone who understands the skills needed to succeed in the five-day game and who is smart enough to understand when his side needs to go on the attack and when a more cautious approach is the better option.
England need to find a way to move forward as a side in Test cricket. And although some may find it harsh to push all the blame towards Bayliss, the underlining point is that we have seen little evidence of improvement since the Australian took charge over two years ago. Some big decisions will have to be made. And deciding Bayliss’s future as head coach may be the biggest of them all.