A sneak peek at England's new backroom staff
At last, one of the darkest chapters in English cricket's playing history has been completed. Whoever wrote that chapter has a dangerously twisted imagination, verging on the sadistic. Parts of the next edition of Wisden will read like a gratuitously grisly crime novel.
It has been a three-month, three-format thrashing of historic proportions, in which England have been smithereened on and off the field. They were dismal in the Tests, careless in the ODIs, and clueless in the T20s. It has been one of the great sporting disintegrations. On the positive side, it did not go quite as badly as Briddleswick CC's club tour of Pompeii in 79 AD. Although historians may well still be picking over the remnants of this winter's whackings in thousands of years' time.
Also on the positive side, England can now look forward, rather than merely try to assuage their cricketing pain by trying to lose limited-overs matches by a dignified margin.
For the first time in years, there is massive uncertainty about England's Test line-up. The bulk of the side Flower led to Australia had been there since his first tour, to the West Indies, five years previously. By contrast, here is The Confectionery Stall's England team for the first Test against Sri Lanka in June:
Cook (captain), AN Other, AN Other, AN Other, AN Other, Stokes, AN Other (wk), AN Other, Broad, AN Other, AN Other.
Cook deserves the opportunity to learn from the batterings of this tour, although his batting has been patchy for the last two years, and was damagingly vulnerable in the two Ashes series. Stokes was the sole significant positive from the five Tests of Torture, and Broad bowled decently throughout (although he could do with watching some videos of himself batting from a few years ago) (not just the highlights).
I contemplated leaving out one of the AN Others for Bell, the decisive player in last summer's victory, but after only two good series in the last nine (in five of which he has averaged under 30), he should be expected to find runs and fluency in first-class cricket. Pietersen's place is partly squabble-dependent, but he has done little since his Mumbai masterpiece 14 months and 14 Tests ago. Anderson deserves leeway but needs wickets. Root should be persevered with as a long-term prospect, but that does not necessarily mean he must be part of England's immediate Test future. Botham is too old, Hammond too dead, and Grace too controversial. Thus, eight spots in the team are, or should be, up for grabs. It will be the most eagerly followed start to a county season for years.
Alongside the tantalising uncertainty in the make-up of the team, it has also been widely argued that England need to reassess/refresh/sack/impound their support staff. Others have suggested that the players must take responsibility. Which in itself suggests that England need to reassess/refresh/sack/impound their support staff.
It seems as good a time as any to speculatively throw out babies with bathwaters, so the Confectionery Stall hereby advocates a complete overhaul of the England backroom. The world must be scoured for the best available candidates to drive and guide the renaissance of English cricket after its three-month Dark Ages. No expense should be spared. No obstacle should be insurmountable in the quest to give Cook, Stokes, Broad and the eight AN Others the best possible support structures to play to the best of their abilities.
The Support Staff to Take England Back to the Summit of Mount Cricket
Batting Coach: F Bruce
For the past few years, England's batsmen have been overseen by two leviathans of modern batsmanship - Flower, a one-man statistical miracle, and Gooch, England's record run scorer, player of some of England's greatest innings, and a man who spectacularly cracked Test cricket late in his career after years of undulating form and disrupted availability. Despite the input of two of the most knowledgeable sages of batsmanship in the known universe, in 30 Tests since January 2012, no England batsman has averaged over 40 in Tests (excluding one-Test, once-out Chris Woakes). Clearly, it is therefore time for them to be coached by someone who knows absolutely nothing about batting. BBC newsreader and Antiques Roadshow frontwoman Fiona Bruce fits the bill perfectly. I assume.
Bowling Coach: N Srinivasan
The ECB's new best buddy might have no expertise when it comes to bowling, nor any discernible fondness for cricket, but England should attempt to coax the BCCI supremo into their inner circle with the offer of a plum coaching job. This could be a valuable first step on the road towards creating a joint England-India Test team that could be charged out at astronomical hourly rates to play against other Test nations, if any of them can afford it, or, more profitably, large multinational corporations, or XIs put together by dubious billionaire Russian oligarchs.
Fielding Coach: M Cyrus
The alleged singer, notorious cricket obsessive, and self-styled Professor of Twerkology at the University of Grind, claims to have modelled her trademark posterial posturing on a combination of Sir Garfield Sobers clipping one to square leg, Imran Khan following through after bowling, and England's 1981 Ashes-winning slip cordon.
Her renowned tongue-out facial hallmark, meanwhile, is an obvious homage to her lifelong heroes Ravichandran Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh, and yet another expression of her obsession with subcontinental offspin. This lifelong passion famously reached its zenith when she had a large tattoo of 1980s Pakistan tweaker Tauseef Ahmed plastered all over her left crumbleflump to celebrate her 18th birthday.
Cyrus, who according to her publicist is "half-way through the second draft of her warts-and-all biography of David Boon", topped the charts last year with her single "Wrecking Ball", which is considered by most music experts to be the most moving song ever written about Angus Fraser's offcutter. Furthermore, the former Hannah Montana star and Tennessee Women's Under-23 3rd XI allrounder reportedly limbers up for her energetically gluteal dance routines by having her long-time choreographer and confidante Derek Randall hurl cricket balls at her via a slip-catching cradle.
The partially nude songstress would bring an innovative approach to often mundane fielding drills, and would help draw media glare away from England's beleaguered players. An outstanding candidate for the all-new Team England.
Chairman of Selectors: HRH Queen Elizabeth II
Long-serving professional monarch would bring natty headgear and a constitutionally impartial perspective to team selection. Experienced, even-handed, popular, and almost psychotically obsessive about county averages.
Motivational Psychologist: Pope Francis
It would take a big compensation package to prise the Vatican No. 1 away from St Peter's, but the star Pope has made a big impact in a short time in Rome with his refreshingly modern attitudes, and could do the same with English cricket.
Statistician: W Buffett
Hyperbillionaire business wiz and philanthropy celeb with a lifetime's mastery of turning numbers into much bigger numbers. Viewed by the ECB as "significantly less likely than Allen Stanford to find himself slammed up in an American penitentiary wearing what looks like the Dutch one-day kit", Buffett's tax bracket commands the instant respect of 21st-century sports players. Would also be able to buy the entire IPL and relocate it to Chad, to bring an end to any T20-aggravated tension in the England dressing room.
Dietician: H Blumenthal
Eight-two-page recipe pamphlets would become a thing of the past with the Michelin-star-spangled concocter of complicated comestibles - 82 pages would barely even cover a single Blumenthal starter. The Fat Duck frontman's flamboyantly experimental yet scientific approach to cookery could help unlock a more adventurous England. As the old saying goes: "eat defensive, bat defensive" (Marcel Proust, À La Recherche Du Cover Drives Perdu, 1922).
Dishes to be served at Blumenthal's proposed cricket-themed megabistro in the pavilion at Leicestershire's Grace Road ground include: freshly skittled tail-end of monkfish, thinly snicked into a cordon of shrimp slips, served with slow-grafted crab Chanderpaul, potato Inzamams and yorked carrot stumps, and drizzled in a Bob Hollandaise sauce.
Fitness Coach: U Bolt
Two-time treble-Olympic sprint champion has all the know-how to turn Monty Panesar into a turf-scorching exocet in the field.
Sledging Consultant: J Sadowitz
Legendarily foul-mouthed Scottish magician-cum-comedian - the British Shane Warne, in many people's eyes - will give England a harsher, more expletive-ridden edge in the verbal jousting that has become "all part and parcel of the game". The Miles Davis of Swearing.
Media Manager: BK Moon
United Nations secretary-general and 60s-rock-drumming-sceptic Ban Keith Moon will bring an air of international authority to England's media relations. Years of attempting to defuse combustible international spats make him the ideal man to ensure Pietersen takes the field again in an England jersey, even if he has to be escorted to the crease by an international peace-keeping force.
Head Coach: A Zaltzman
Has never failed in a top-level coaching role. Undefeated in Tests as both a player and a coach. Plenty of spare time.
These are extreme times for the England team. They require extreme measures. And they also require a separate coach for T20 internationals. To have the same coach in five-day cricket as three-hour cricket is akin to hiring the same composer to create both an orchestral symphony expressing fundamental truths about the human condition and an advertising jingle for children's processed-cheese snacklets. You might find someone who can cover both disciplines. But you would probably be better off not burdening that person with two such non-complementary duties.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on BBC Radio 4, and a writer