Opinion: A year later, Downton and out

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According to Kevin Pietersen’s much discussed autobiography, he had to Google Paul Downton’s name to find out who he was when he was appointed as the Managing Director of the England cricket team in January of last year.

Pietersen may not have heard of Downton before his appointment, but by the time he had decided that England’s leading run scorer of all time was surplus to requirements, he had certainly had a big impact on the career of the South Africa-born maverick.

Just 14 months after his appointment Downton is gone, fired in the wake of a disastrous World Cup campaign and a miserable winter. There was some hope of a revival of sorts after England’s win against India last summer, but once the ODIs got underway it all went horribly wrong.

Not that it hadn't been going wrong for Downton before then. The handling of the Pietersen affair, whether you agree with the decision to dispense with his services or not, was shambolic. The ECB lurched from one crisis to another as they attempted to find a way to justify the decision.

Downton took up his post in February. In March England were losing to the Netherlands at the World T20. In April Downton was calling Peter Moores 'the outstanding coach of his generation', words that sound on the wrong side of ridiculous after a World Cup exit of such humiliating proportions. By May Downton was being forced to apologise to Pietersen for breaking a confidentiality agreement by saying to much in an interview with the BBC’s Jonathan Agnew.

Downton was losing the PR battle badly and he seemed to be incapable of arresting the decline. He furiously backed Alastair Cook as ODI captain in December only to see him fired a few days later. All of this with questions about Pietersen ever present in every interaction he had with the press.

A sports administrator is doing his job well when the average fan has no idea that he exists. Downton’s days were numbered as soon as he became the story.

Downton was hamstrung from the moment he got the job because the problem with England is one of culture and it was his job to keep it going. English cricket being staid and reactionary is no longer a cliche that its critics wheel out and every opportunity, it is now the biggest threat that the game in this country faces.

As much as Colin Graves’, the incoming Chairman of the ECB, attempts at shaking things up have been somewhat ham-fisted, he is clearly aware that a cultural shift is very much needed. With that in mind, the restructuring of those running Team England does make sense. To quote Alastair Cook, 'something needs to be done'.

Downton has taking the role of Managing Director with him and him will be replaced by a team director in a role similar to what Ravi Shastri does with India. The candidates that are being mention all have one thing in common – they were England captains.

Although Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussain will be on the wish list of many, they can be discounted. Hussain has already counted himself out and Atherton is too firmly embedded in the media to be tempted into this kind of role.

The man that is jumping over himself for the job, in fact he has been talking himself up as a replacement for Downton since before he was fired, is Michael Vaughan. The advantage that Vaughan would bring is he is very much a fan of modern cricket.

He has publicly stated for months that England’s approach is old fashioned and out dated. He would bring change and he has a close relationship with Graves. He does, however, have business interests that would need to be given up, as well as lucrative media contracts.

Andrew Strauss could well be offered the job, and he may well take it. He is not as much of a fixture in the media and he is still close to the team. That may make him more likely to get the role but it brings with it the disadvantage of him being seen as the establishment’s man. Can Strauss bring the change that this move is supposed to bring about?

Then there is Alec Stewart, who has the advantage of doing almost this exact job for Surrey. He is involved in coaching and has an intimate understanding of county cricket. This is all the more important when you consider that this role could well end up being chief selector as well – it seems that James Whittaker will be losing that job in the coming days.

As for Paul Downton, at least no one will need to Google his name to know who he is anymore.     

Peter Miller

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