<
>

A shabby end for ECB's star pupil

play
Butcher: Manner of Moores' sacking was shabby (3:24)

Mark Butcher says it would have been better to have given Moores a little more time to try and accomplish what he intended to and a new coach may not necessarily result in change of fortunes (3:24)

The treatment of Peter Moores, who was left to bleed in public on a rainy day in Dublin before being put out of his misery by press release 24 hours later, was one of the least dignified episodes in the recent history of the ECB. That really is saying something given the depths to which the organisation has stooped in a sorry 18 months.

Nevertheless, leaving aside that operational shortcoming, few would try to argue that Moores' fate is undeserved. Two sackings in a combined tenure of two and a half years is an extraordinary feat of underachievement. Outside of the tangled relationships of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, it is hard to think of an equivalent walk of life where that might actually be possible.

Perhaps he was simply in the wrong job. Andrew Strauss' first decision as Director, England Cricket was to sack Moores as England coach: the irresistible irony was that the man best suited for Strauss' new role was arguably the one he had just cast into the wilderness. Moores, lest we forget, showed himself in his first incarnation to be an accomplished delegator. He was quite clearly "on it" at all times, but in appointing an umbrella of deputies, most notably Andy Flower, he established the framework that would ultimately carry England to No. 1 in the world.

Instead, there has been something of a doomed romance about Moores' flirtation with the ECB. "The outstanding coach of his generation" was intended to have been The One, the standard-bearer of, and vindication for, the huge investment that the ECB has put into its High Performance Centre at Loughborough. Moores, one of the ECB's first batches of Level 4 coaches, was the programme's star pupil, a factory-farmed leader of men whose enthusiasm for the processes of international coaching could not, in the final analysis, mask his lack of practical knowledge.

When push came to shove, as it did with remarkable frequency in a crisis-laden final curtain, Moores was unable to disguise the fact that he was a hard-working but unremarkable Sussex wicketkeeper at heart - the identical failing, in fact, that had led Kevin Pietersen, a rookie captain crying out for some situational insight while being drubbed on the tour of India in 2008, to call for his original removal.

"Even in the dying days of his regime, it was hard to fault the unity of his beaten team... he has been exceptional at nurturing young talent"

Pietersen was the darkness at the heart of Moores' second coming, a man who was conveniently sacked rather than dropped in the months leading up to his appointment, presumably in the hope that a line could be drawn under the most prolific England run-scoring career of all time and leave the coach to do what he does best - identify and nurture young talent - without being harassed at every press conference about his interpersonal relationships.

Alas, the sacking had the opposite effect. It underscored the public's perception that Moores was a man defined by his limitations - his teams could shuttle-run until the cows came home, but you got the sense they'd sleep in the cattle sheds too if they were told to. When it came to man management, he simply couldn't… well, manage. He is, as they say in the trade, a total cricket badger, which does not have to be a pejorative term, although people with such monomaniacal traits are advised to choose their conversations carefully.

Ajmal Shahzad, who worked briefly with Moores during his loan stint with Lancashire in 2012, recalls being woken at six o'clock in the morning by a phone call from his coach, who had been up all night pondering options for his slower ball. Within half an hour, the pair were down at the nets at Old Trafford, no doubt with a triple espresso rattling through their systems. Shahzad, as it happens, was delighted with such close and personal attention, just as many (but not all) senior international players have recoiled.

"He's a highly energetic guy," Alastair Cook said at the unveiling of the new captain-coach combination at a Waitrose event last year - and this from a man who has grown up under the tutelage of Graham Gooch at Essex, where, even in the aftermath of his 766 runs in the 2010-11 Ashes, Cook was willing to subject himself to dawn runs through the woods outside Chelmsford, with bricks in his rucksack and his mentor pursuing him on a bicycle.

It's little wonder, in the circumstances, that Cook had been so outspoken in his support for Moores. After all, the imposition of a few extra hard yards in Melbourne during the Ashes is believed to have been the cause of the terminal breakdown in communications between Pietersen and his captain, just as Moores Mk 1 never recovered from subjecting his original squad - Pietersen included - to a beasting on the outfield following a dramatic high-scoring tie in an ODI in Napier in 2008.

He came back into the role determined not to repeat the errors of his first incarnation, and to be fair, it has been noticeable how much greater the tolerance, perhaps even fondness, has been for Moores Mk 2 within the dressing room. Even in the dying days of his regime, it was hard to fault the unity of his beaten team, and whoever does take over the role will have better raw materials with which to work than Moores himself was left with after either of the Ashes batterings that preceded his two appointments. He has been exceptional at nurturing young talent, which is precisely why there has been a willingness internally to cut him a bit of slack.

In stark contrast to the Duncan Fletcher-affiliated old guard who disparaged the new coach, much as Fergie's boys had done to David Moyes at Manchester United, the kids to whom Moores offered opportunities on the seminal tour of New Zealand in 2008 are now the senior members of the dressing room. James Anderson and Stuart Broad were memorably recalled in place of Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard for the Wellington Test in 2008, while two of Moores' great hunches - Matt Prior and Graeme Swann - not only went on to become central planks of England's world-beating Test team of 2010-11, they became, for better and for worse, the loudest voices in the dressing room as well. But such an obsession with unproven talent means that naivety comes with the territory, and the two most seminal failings of Moores' second innings were like the flip side of the same coin.

If Moores' overuse of statistics and his Moneyball-style team selection (Gary Ballance at No. 3 in the World Cup as a Jonathan Trott-style sheet-anchor, for instance), can be exaggerated, as he himself insists it has been, the theme remains.

Cajoling and pep-talking were all very well, but when faced with a genuine systems failure, a full-scale meltdown against Bangladesh in the World Cup in Adelaide - opposition that, the data claimed, should have been beaten 99 times out of 100 in such conditions - Moores had no relevant response, just as he had been empty of advice for Pietersen in Kanpur and Cuttack as Virender Sehwag laid waste to his bowling plans.

Then, when it came to the tour of West Indies, and the chance to blood another batch of promising rookies with the Ashes on the horizon, Moores bottled it - to the befuddlement of most observers, not least the selectors who had given him the sort of young guns he so likes to work with. Instead Trott was chosen over Adam Lyth, Mark Wood was ignored, and Adil Rashid wasn't trusted in spite of West Indies' traditional vulnerability to legspin. But the upshot was the same regardless. A panicky collapse to 39 for 5 at Bridgetown and a promising position squandered.

Soon after the defeat, Moores was grilled on the outfield by an imperiously unimpressed Nasser Hussain. "You've been there, Nas, in Test match cricket…" he said at one point. Uh huh…

And so his second tenure ends as his first had done, with defeat on the field, innuendo in the air, and with Andrew Strauss parachuted in as a cricketing Red Adair. The syntactically specific role of "director, England cricket" differs markedly from Strauss' appointment as Test captain in January 2009 but the re-establishment of order is very much his brief once again. The appointment smacks of an overblown PR exercise - as evidenced by Michael Vaughan, of all the media foghorns, being both the initial favourite for the role on account of his ability to make the right noises, and the first to rule himself out because of the role's limitations.

Strauss, presumably, will make of it what he will - and 40 minutes between appointment and first announcement bodes well for his decision-making, if little else.

It's not impossible Moores will return one day in another capacity for the ECB, which is not reluctant to recycle its jobs for its boys. Besides, it is clear, in spite of Saturday's curt defenestration, the gratitude lingers for a man who at least had the courage to front up for a second innings in spite of the ugliness of his first dismissal. But sadly, then as now, he was the wrong man at the wrong time. In the wrong role.