England news May 2, 2014

England identity crisis tops Moores' agenda

The Peter Moores revolution will be a gradual and balanced one, focused on creating a more confident, self-sustaining culture for English cricket

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Tom Moody: Moores the right man for the job

English cricket feels as if it is out of kilter, and so, like England invariably does at such times, it is searching for consensus. Do you want to know what the future of English cricket will look like? "Like most things it's about balance," Peter Moores said. It will not get any more revolutionary than that.

Somewhere at the centre of this rebalancing exercise is a search for Englishness, a yearning not to follow the mindset of football and regard foreign intervention as automatically superior - imagine the scathing response if an English manager, even a highly successful one, sought to develop an egotistical persona like Jose Mourinho - but to create a feeling of national unity and pride in the manner that Stuart Lancaster has achieved with England's rugby union side.

Defining Englishness is hard enough. The Australians believe in their courage and resilience and the mystical properties of the Baggy Green, India draws strength from the passion and the wealth that cricket creates. But since the Empire retreated into history and present-day pomp and pageantry, for many, became largely a way to bring the tourists in, England has struggled to construct a true, living sense of national identity.

Englishness seems to be about irony, self-effacement, pragmatism and, increasingly, the right to individuality. As Jeremy Paxman wrote in The English: "It is based on values that are so deeply embedded in the culture that it is almost unconscious."

None of these values fit easily with success in team sport. But after a decade of reliance upon southern African coaches - and the ordered, prescriptive ways of Duncan Fletcher and Andy Flower brought many benefits - and also importing players with a powerful South African yearning to succeed, it is the aim of Moores, his self-effacing captain, Alastair Cook, and the MD of England cricket, Paul Downton, who has spent much of his life since retirement in the rarefied world of the City, to find a way to do it.

One thing there will be, says Moores, in an England dressing room overseen by himself and his assistant Paul Farbrace, is a recognition that there are times to lighten the mood.

"Losing is tough - this winter would have been tough," he said. "Sometimes the time when the pressure is at the most extreme is when you want to be at your lightest. The general rule for me is, when the pressure is on, you try to take it off and when there's none there, you shove it on."

Gradually, we are learning about Moores' England. As far as the coaching and support staff is concerned, the broad church will remain - it is just that they won't all be trying to cram into the pulpit.

Moores knows that knowledge is essential, but he reasserted, too, that there comes a time when it is understood that it is down to 11 players to have the talent and self-reliance and, yes, a powerful sense not just of individual ambition but of national pride, to go out and do their stuff.

This might not be revolutionary, but it is common sense. Moores' English revolution will not be jingoistic. Not for a moment will it overlook the importance of planning: essentially that is where his coaching excellence lies. But when the preparation is over, the overriding purpose will be to restate the notion that the togetherness that matters is that of the 11 players on the field.

"My basic rule of thumb on most things is that when you are preparing, a big resource of coaches is fine," Moores said, "but when you are actually playing you have to be careful there aren't too many people around because the players forget to connect to each other.

"The most important thing is that you play as a team - 11 blokes go and play against the opposition - coaches don't play the game. So you don't want the player connecting to a coach or multiple coaches rather than his team-mates.

"The job is that the players unite to play the game: and they deliver, they come off, they talk with each other. They have to be savvy and brave as players and they have to work that out amongst themselves to get out there and play. It is a balance of both - good coaching to help with preparation and then players playing."

Graham Gooch left on Thursday, replaced under the "freshen things up" mantra, perceived perhaps as a bit long in the tooth, a bit uninspiring, the fact that he is mentor to Cook unable to save him. He took his dog thrower with him, although it is unlikely he is ready yet to use it solely to throw balls for dogs.

But even Gooch is not being dispensed with entirely. "He still has great relationships with some of the batters and he plays golf with them, so his bank of knowledge isn't going to disappear," Moores said. The same goes for Richard Halsall, the fielding coach, whose role will now largely be undertaken by the new assistant coach, Farbrace. But Halsall will be on call, his expertise utilised from time to time.

Others, such as Phil Neale, the England team manager, and Mark Bawden, the psychologist, might also be nervously awaiting a phone call in the coming days. Neale, who will be 60 in June, has been with the team since 1999 and has a reputation for ensuring things run smoothly behind the scenes, while Bawden's standing was strong until the Ashes but took a knock after the obvious mental disintegration of several of the squad on that tour.

"I hope we connect to the public so they see what we are trying to do. We want to put forward what's happening with the England team, how the lads are playing and portray that the future is more exciting than the past"
Head coach Peter Moores

Less than a week away from his first match in charge - a potential pit trap against Scotland in Aberdeen - Moores has also become the first England coach to distance himself from a cookbook.

When England issued their dietary requirements ahead of the Ashes tour in Australia last winter, the recipes themselves, taken in isolation, could not be faulted in nutritional terms - not even the quinoa, cranberry and feta salad. But to deliver a 70-page glossy cookbook in such an overbearing fashion suggested that England's ever-growing investment in a vast support staff charged with achieving marginal gains had begun to lose sight of reality.

"Like most things it's about balance," Moores said. "You look at everything to see if it's still in balance and redress any imbalances. If it has become too sciencey you wouldn't want to go all the way back to just gut feeling - you would sit somewhere in the middle and pay attention to both. Food, having a beer, relaxing: you balance them all. Crikey, they are normal people and they have to able to enjoy themselves. They don't want to eat boiled chicken every day.

"I obviously wasn't there, I was eating Lancashire hotpot. But the players we have - everyone knows what you should and shouldn't have and what affects you, you have a job to do and to stay in good shape."

So a relaxation of sorts then, but no suggestion that he go so far as to take a leaf out of Nigel Farage's book and base his methodology on posing with a pint whenever a cameraman is in the vicinity.

Moores knows that he takes over with disenchantment running high among many England supporters. There were complaints about a disconnect between the England team and the public long before the 5-0 Ashes whitewash.

The subsequent removal of Kevin Pietersen is still resented by the vast majority - 75% according to one large, if unscientific, ESPNcricinfo poll - of the English cricketing public. He was a maverick, a grating personality for some, a malcontent when things went badly, removed to make the job of Moores and Cook easier, a salutary reminder while we are considering the English national character that hypocrisy is never too far away.

"I hope we connect to the public so they see what we are trying to do," Moores said. "It is really important, I think, that Kev can have his say, but we want to put forward what's happening with the England team, how the lads are portraying themselves, how they are playing and portray that as more exciting - that the future is more exciting than the past."

In a perfect world that future would no longer be overly reliant on southern African imports or on merely the cricketing skills taught in a privileged English private education. With the help of a drive to keep cricket relevant in the inner cities, the continued influence of forces for change such as Chance to Shine and, who knows, perhaps even a more successful domestic T20 tournament, the future could touch talented young cricketers in all parts of society.

In this new England what would Moores' message be? The answer was less prescriptive than many answers we have become used to in recent years.

"If I had a message to a young player it would be 'Come with your own mind. Imagine what you could try and do and then go and do it.'"

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo