It wasn’t Andrew Strauss. It wasn’t Nasser Hussain. It wasn’t Nick Knight. And it wasn’t Angus Fraser. Instead, on Friday afternoon (October 18), the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced that Paul Downton would be the new managing director of England cricket.
Downton’s name was a total surprise to those who had speculated with futility as to who could replace the departing Hugh Morris on February 1 next year. And indeed, that Downton’s name was not speculated upon is not a bad thing, and in fact, it’s probably a good thing. Rather than being a man who has been in and around English cricket for the last decade, Downton has instead been working in the City. His career in the sport ended in 1991 when he retired, and he will no doubt bring fresh ideas, guidance and leadership to the hugely important role.
While English cricket is currently in excellent health, there has been a developing feeling that the men’s team is reaching a crossroads, and the time has indeed come for new impetus. The ECB will hope that Downton is the man to provide that.
Downton was one of a number of wicketkeepers tried by England in the post-Alan Knott era and probably one of the most successful playing 30 Tests, including 16 against the ferocious West Indies side of the 1980s, as well as forging a successful career in county cricket for Middlesex and Kent. Since retirement, Downton has been working in the City, and it is perhaps this experience that separated him from the rest of the candidates.
The managing director is required to have first-hand cricket experience but must also be prepared to handle a tight budget and make overarching decisions with regards to the future of English cricket. Downton won’t be down on the ground wearing the tracksuits, but he’ll be making all the decisions that affect those wearing the tracksuits.
Downton will assume the role on February 1 next year and will do so at a time of transition for the England team. There is growing speculation that Andy Flower could step down from his role as team director following the Ashes in Australia that ends in early January, and indeed, even if he doesn’t, the end of his tenure is most definitely looming. Dealing with his exit and finding a replacement will certainly be something Downton will have to oversee sooner or later.
Such a task may well be easier than it sounds because, although it is widely thought that Ashley Giles will simply make the step up from one-day coach to Test coach, that would leave him in charge of all three formats—something the ECB and Flower thought was too strenuous during his tenure but could thus involve Giles leaving his role with the limited-overs team just months before the 2015 50-over World Cup.
The England team, too, is believed to be peaking with the careers of some players entering their twilight and the need to blend the next generation through the formats is something that began at the end of the English summer and will need to continue to ensure steady growth as opposed to more dramatic fluctuations in form.
Those who know Downton seem to believe that he is the right man for the job. Simon Hughes, a former teammate of Downton, writing in The Telegraph said:
He will bring balance, perspective, good organisation, enthusiasm, ambition and intimate knowledge of the game to the hierarchy. With his diplomatic character, he is the ideal person to persuade all the factions within his remit to continue to pull together for the national cause.
Only serving to re-emphasise the feeling of transition surrounding the team, on the same day as it was announced that Downton would be taking over from Morris, it was also announced that James Whittaker would be replacing Geoff Miller as national selector.
Miller has experienced a hugely successful period as national selector, engineering a time whereby England squad announcements became dull, predictable affairs—exactly the kind of announcements that bode well for the health of the team. While perhaps Nick Compton and Samit Patel have the right to feel aggrieved, Miller generally handled England’s players exceptionally well and made some brilliant decisions in his five-year tenure.
Whitaker has been on the selection panel since 2008, and his appointment should merely be a smooth climb up to the next level for him. His first job will be finding a replacement for Miller on the selection panel, and his first selection duty will be picking England’s squad for the three T20s in the West Indies and the World T20 in Bangladesh next March.
David Collier, ECB Chief Executive
Paul's record of success both on and off the field made him the outstanding candidate to replace Hugh Morris. His experience of a World Cup final, Ashes success, six County Championship wins and 58 international appearances for England provides a wealth of cricket experience.
His background in law when coupled with his experience in the City provides the unique set of skills which is required to lead and manage the England cricket department' s £100 million budget over the next four years. Paul will inherit a thriving team England operation, which has been exceptionally well led by Hugh Morris and the ECB wishes Hugh every success in his new role at Glamorgan CCC.
Paul Downton, new managing director of England cricket
I am honoured to have been offered this position and the trust which the ECB has placed in me to lead our national teams. Since retiring from the game I have taken a close interest in both county and international cricket and I am excited by the challenge of building on the success which England teams have enjoyed at all levels in recent years. My discussions during the appointment process with the chairman, chief executive, the England team director and one-day coach have provided me with a clear vision of the importance attached to this role and I look forward to forging close and successful working relationships with my new colleagues at ECB.
The last six years have been as enjoyable as any time in my cricketing career and it will be sad to step down after a 14 year period as first an England selector and then the national selector. "The relationships and friendships that I have built up during that time with Hugh Morris, the managing director England cricket, and all at the ECB are something I will cherish. However I feel that this is the perfect time to hand over the reins and I cannot think of anyone more suitable than James Whitaker to assume control of the selection panel. He has been a most loyal colleague who now has the chance to continue the success to which he has contributed so much, so far. I wish him, Andy Flower, Ashley Giles and all the England players the very best of in the years ahead and I am sure that they will continue the pathway to success not only this winter but also in the years to come.
I am honoured to have been invited to be national selector and greatly look forward to working with the newly appointed managing director of England cricket, my fellow selectors - England team director Andy Flower and one-day coach Ashley Giles - as we seek to build on the recent success of England teams. I wish to thank Geoff Miller for his leadership of the selectors since 2008. Geoff's contribution cannot be overstated and I hope that I shall prove to be a worthy successor to a man who has brought stability, diligence and great judgement to our selection process in the last five years.