Once they were England captain and fast bowler. Now Sportsmail columnist Nasser Hussain meets up with his old charge Chris Silverwood to discuss his new role as selection supremo, all things England as they begin their Test summer against New Zealand on Wednesday, and what makes him tick…
Hussain: You’ve been England coach for just over 18 months. How do you think it’s going? What impact have you made?
Silverwood: I think there’s been progress, certainly in the way we’re trying to play our cricket. Yes, there was a bump in the road against India when we were taken out of our comfort zone but, apart from that, we’ve been doing what me and you talked about when I first took the job: big first-innings runs and then finding a way to take 20 wickets. We’re trying to pick players for specific roles rather than choosing a load of them and trying to make the gameplan work around them. I think it’s working well.
Sportsmail’s Nasser Hussain (left) caught up with former England team-mate Chris Silverwood
Hussain: Does it frustrate you if people forget you were making decent strides before those three Test defeats in India?
Silverwood: When you look back over a longer period the progress is there for all to see. For me, it’s about keeping things in perspective. I’ve got to have the ability to sit above it and say, ‘Actually, apart from three Tests when we were pushed to extremes, have we got in place what we said we would?’ And the answer is yes.
Hussain: I was going to ask what has surprised you about the job but dealing with a pandemic must have thrown everything into disarray. How tough has it been?
Silverwood: It’s had its moments! We’ve had to accept how things are and have asked people to spend a long time in bubbles, which led to us resting and rotating players. I know some don’t agree with the way we’ve done it, but the point is that it wasn’t acceptable to push any player so far that they broke.
It would then take a long time to fix them again. Better to intervene before we got to that stage, give them a break and then bring them back revitalised. We will get more out of them that way. The downside, of course, is that you struggle to get your best team on the park all the time.
Hussain: When you first played for England under me, I called you Chris. Then it was your nickname, Spoons. More recently it’s been coach but what should I call you now? The supremo? Ed Smith has gone and you’re the head selector. Why did that change have to happen?
As well as England’s head coach, Silverwood is now also the national team selector
Silverwood: The biggest thing was modernising our system. If you look at football, rugby and other sports, we had what was perceived as a dated way of doing things. This now makes the lines of communication very clear. I know the depth of the squad now. I’ve lived with them in these bubbles over the past year. I’ve seen what they’re capable of.
Should the head coach be responsible for picking the team? Well, in other sports they do. Ultimately, if the team doesn’t perform that falls back on the coach anyway.
Hussain: But will a player come to you now if he has an issue? Will he go to the head selector and say, ‘I’m really struggling?’ Will he worry about his place? Because you wouldn’t be doing your job if you then didn’t take that to the selection meeting.
Silverwood: I am, in the short-term perhaps, expecting people to speak less to me. But hopefully through being consistent, fair and logical with the decisions I make, they will see what I’m trying to do. Even if they don’t agree with me! I do think in time they will realise they’re still talking to Spoons and I’ll still be approachable. They can also talk to two people in the coaching set-up with a wealth of experience — Graham Thorpe and Paul Collingwood.
Hussain: There is a difference with our other big sports. You can see Gareth Southgate sitting at lots of Premier League games watching players. You don’t have the time to do that. I know there are good live streams of county matches but do you get more out of it by watching someone live?
Silverwood: The scouts are still there and the network is extensive. James Taylor will be heading that up along with Mo Bobat on the performance side. But I have been at county matches.
Silverwood has been impressed with the development of Notts batsman Haseeb Hameed
I went to watch Haseeb Hameed playing for Notts and he batted beautifully. You see a lot of people you don’t expect to. I went to Sussex to watch Ollie Robinson and I noticed the young spinner Jack Carson. It was like, ‘Hang on a minute, I don’t know much about you’.
Hussain: It’s not the job of the head selector to be popular. You will make tough decisions. Are you expecting to become unpopular with certain players?
Silverwood: In a word, yes. I know I’m going to upset people but the key will be having a clear explanation of why I’m doing it. They may not agree with it but if they know there’s a method behind it you hope they will continue to be on board.
Hussain: You picked your first squad for the first Test against New Zealand with a number of high-profile absentees. But it’s still a bloody good squad.
Silverwood: Yes, we may be a bit unbalanced without Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran but I’ve got lots of options. Whichever way we go, we will have some very good players. It’s great, for instance, to have Robinson and Craig Overton scrapping over a place.
And am I happy for James Bracey to come in now Ben Foakes is injured? Of course I am. You can see the depth is there. That’s what we want.
Jofra Archer has been forced to have an operation following recent elbow injury concerns
Hussain: Two of those players who won’t face New Zealand are superstars. Ben Stokes is getting better but Jofra Archer has had to have an operation. How concerned are you about him?
Silverwood: He’s played for a while with a sore elbow and we’ve tried different ways of treating it. But the priority is doing whatever it takes to make sure he gets the best treatment and gets back to performing at his very best for England. He will come back firing on all cylinders and being the exciting cricketer he is.
Hussain: How close are you to where you want to be with the Ashes side?
Silverwood: We’re not a million miles away. You will just see us tightening down on things as we move along. We will probably travel with an extended squad to Australia and the important thing is to get as much experience into these players as we can. We want to get a good number of Tests into a good number of players. We know how tough it is to win in Australia. We know what the numbers are like.
Hussain: If someone asked me what Chris Silverwood the England player was like I’d say you were a top bloke, very relaxed and genial and would run through a brick wall for your captain. What about Chris Silverwood the coach?
Silverwood: Much the same! You try to develop cricketers but you develop them as human beings as well. You try to create an environment that the best players can thrive in. I try to work hard and do whatever it takes to help the team.
Hussain: But I’ve heard behind the scenes you can be as tough as it gets?
Silverwood: I’m not afraid of conflict. I don’t think you can back away from that so you may as well embrace it. If there’s conflict let’s try and resolve it.
I know I’m going to upset people at times but if you do it in the right way and show respect, you should be able to communicate with them. I use the word logic a lot but any decision you make has to make sense.
Silverwood shares a discussion with England captain Joe Root in his role as head coach
Hussain: You’ve had quite a journey since you retired as a player to become England’s head coach and chief selector. Did you think you’d end up here?
Silverwood: I didn’t know what I wanted to do. As a player I just thought it would never end but there comes a time of stark reality when you’ve got a family and a mortgage. That came when I was playing a second-team game for Middlesex when I was 34 and I’d had multiple injuries — so I did know it was ending — and someone I was with had a text from Zimbabwe asking if they knew anybody who might be interested in coaching in franchise cricket out there.
They asked me if I fancied it and I just said, ‘Yeah, I do’. Within 20 minutes Alastair Campbell (the former Zimbabwe captain) was on the phone saying: ‘Are you serious?’ The season finished and then on October 7, 2009, I remember the date, I left for Mashonaland and my first stint as a head coach. I hadn’t done it before but I loved it.
Hussain: And you’ve been successful ever since. We are sitting here near the Essex-Suffolk border where you live. How important was your time at Essex, where you won the County Championship before you left to join England?
Silverwood: I got a phone call from Paul Grayson asking if I wanted to be bowling coach. Zimbabwe was great but my family didn’t settle there so I took the job. It was my first opportunity in county cricket. It took a while for the members to talk to me because I’m from Yorkshire but slowly people warmed to me and I got on very well with the players.
I immersed myself in everything Essex and worked my way through the coaching ranks. To have so much support has been incredible. Graham Gooch and Keith Fletcher are still sounding boards and to see the club get to where they are is one of the proudest things I’ve been associated with.
I call myself an adopted Essex man and I still send the players ‘well done’ texts. The first score I look for now is always Essex. My kids are involved in junior cricket around here and I can’t see us ever moving from the area.
Silverwood took the role from Trevor Bayliss (above) following the last Ashes series
Hussain: You were a fast bowler — it’s usually batsmen who become head coaches — and you’re a product of the English system. For a long time England turned to foreign coaches — Duncan Fletcher, Andy Flower and Trevor Bayliss. Your success is an incentive to other English coaches out there.
Silverwood: I’ve made no secret of my hope that another English coach will take over from me when I finish this job. You are desperate to see England and the players do well as an English coach. We have some very good English coaches. Just look at the quality we have in the counties. And look at the quality I have around me.
Not just Thorpey and Colly but Jon Lewis and Richard Dawson to name two. There are plenty who could stand up and take over from me. My ambition is to leave this job in a better position than I found it and let someone carry that forward. If that someone is an Englishman then I’ve done my job.
Hussain: We all know you will be judged after the India Test series, Twenty20 World Cup and the Ashes. What would you consider success in this busy year?
Silverwood: Ultimately success at the sharp end of the stick is winning. We know how difficult it is to win in Australia but it’s an exciting challenge. We want to win the Ashes and we think it’s a challenge we are up to. And we want to win the World Cup. That would be what success is for us and the nation.
And I want to make sure all the players and staff are still in a great place. If we can do that we’ve been successful on a human level as well.