The Cricketer
Huw Turbervill Huw Turbervill

SHOULD NASSER HUSSAIN OR ALEC STEWART BECOME ENGLAND’S GAFFER?

Tactics and discipline are lacking… although England do not need someone like the Duke of Norfolk in charge again

Cricket has always shied clear of having a football-style manager, a supremo, a gaffer, dictating tactics and setting the bar on discipline. The captain has historically been king, with some coaches more hands on (Bob Woolmer, Duncan Fletcher, David Lloyd) than others (Trevor Bayliss, Keith Fletcher). After this troubled Ashes tour, though, is it time to revisit the idea?

Bayliss has said he will not seek a contract extension from the end of next summer. He is a laid-back fellow, a consultant-style coach. He was appointed to give players their head (although that does not mean they get off their heads). Fletcher was a bit like that in a way, he was good at technical tinkering but did not believe in revamping players. The Zimbabwean was still the boss, though. You did not mess with him. Critics have argued that Bayliss now needs to be more up front.

Many believe he should be relieved of the Test facet of his role before this summer, however. Paul Collingwood and Jason Gillespie have been mentioned in dispatches for the role, although both are committed to the county game this summer. Perhaps Chris Silverwood, who has only recently become the bowling coach, would therefore be at the front of the queue…

Could England go for a supremo instead or as well? Somebody who can dictate tactics (I wonder how Joe Root would take that?). And set standards off the field (hopefully avoiding incidents like Bairstowgate and Duckettgate). Australia is a tough place to go – when the dogs get a scent, there is no restraining them…

Nasser Hussain would be a super candidate. The obvious question would be if he was prepared to relinquish his contracts with Sky TV and the Daily Mail, however. Yes his at-times micro-managing (he used to do it from mid-off) would irritate bowlers like Andrew Flintoff and co, but in such a hostile environment – in the age of clickbait, social media and with even Cricket Australia tweeting jingoistically – he could be just the man to provide leadership.

Nasser hands Dawid Malan his cap ahead of England's T20 against South Africa

Alec Stewart (whose nickname is indeed ‘The Gaffer’) would also have his supporters…

Another option would be for England to bring back – or certainly enhance – the role of tour manager; taken up steadfastly and impressively in the past by Alec Bedser, Bob Bennett, John Barclay, MJK Smith and co. England do have a longstanding operations manager in the redoubtable Phil Neale. He takes charge of all the admin and is no doubt an excellent help to the coaches, tapping in on his tremendous experience as a former captain of Worcestershire. Hussain or Stewart could/would have enhanced power, though…

Certainly it appears someone needs to get a grip…

The most colourful tour manager since the War was undoubtedly the Duke of Norfolk, who accompanied the tourists to Australia in 1962/63. “The story goes,” Ray Illingworth told me, “that the Duke woke up one night, and said, ‘I’d like to manage the tour to Australia’. So his wife said, ‘Well, Marmaduke, you must tell the MCC’.”

Bedser was assistant manager. “Alec did all the work,” Tom Graveney said, before adding rather more diplomatically than Illingworth would have done: “But the Duke was a fine ambassador.” 

'The Gaffer'

In 1962, the distinction between amateurs and gentlemen in cricket was abolished, but this had not quite filtered through to MCC’s winter tour.

“None of the professionals were ever invited to dinner [by the management and amateurs],” added Illingworth. “Not that we would want to have gone, anyway. But all the amateurs dined with the Duke of Norfolk and that created divisions. The team were provided with four cars, and only the amateurs used them.”

Ian Wooldridge wrote in the Daily Mail: “Dressing formally for dinner each night was obligatory. The most urgent items on the agenda were the official evening receptions given by the British High Commissioner, the State Premier and the local cricket administration. These were to be repeated in every state and were invariably attended by many attractive wives and daughters of our generous hosts. To my knowledge, three English marriages collapsed during that tour, but there may have been more. To get to know us, the Duke gave a dinner party at which he said: ‘I wish this to be a completely informal tour. You will merely address me as ‘Sir’.”

In the forthcoming February edition of The Cricketer, Hussain himself says the need for a disciplinarian to crack down has been overplayed. “Let’s not exaggerate the off-the-field behaviour. There has always been a bit of a drinking culture in cricket and I don’t think it has changed drastically. In the Beefy era they would pick and choose which nights to go out, and so did we. Looking at this tour, it has been a bit harsh. Let’s face it, there has been one high-profile incident involving Ben Stokes, and that changed everything, putting the guys under the microscope even more. Trevor Bayliss was brought in to let players make up their own minds a bit, and a few of them have let him down. England have a manager anyhow, Phil Neale, a great bloke who has been an unsung hero for the team for a long time.”

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