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News Analysis

Joe Root's resignation compounds power vacuum at ECB

No coach, no managing director of cricket, no selector and now no Test captain

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
"There's no coach, no managing director of cricket, no selector." Eoin Morgan did his best to sum up the power vacuum at the heart of England's men's teams in an interview with ESPNcricinfo last week but now Joe Root has thrown the Test captaincy into the black hole, too.
Even before Root's resignation on Friday, England were in a mess. They had won one of their last 17 Tests and spent most of last summer treating home fixtures against the world's two best teams - India and New Zealand - as "preparation" for an Ashes series that they lost four-nil.
Against West Indies, the team felt increasingly out of sync with the wider mood. As England slipped to a 1-0 series defeat, Root insisted that they were making "big improvements" in his final television interview in the role, in which he was grilled by an increasingly short-tempered David Gower.
The two highest wicket-takers in their history, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, are frustrated by the lack of communication they have had with their employers since they were surprisingly omitted for the series defeat in the Caribbean. "There's nobody in those positions permanently," Anderson said earlier this week. "I'm presuming that is why I've not heard anything."
There were mitigating factors throughout, with the demands on England's leading players heightened by the effects of Covid on both their schedule and their day-to-day lives with the suffocation of bubble life catching up with them. But when results turned, so did public opinion; by the final day of Root's last Test as captain in Grenada, his predecessors were queuing up to call for him to be sacked.
"Why now - why not 20 years ago?" a reporter asks in a Simpsons episode when Krusty the Klown announces he is quitting show business. The same could be asked of Root's resignation: why wait until mid-April when it has been clear for three months that his time is up?
Root said in his statement that during a rare break after the West Indies tour, it had "hit home how much of a toll [the captaincy] has taken" and the impact it has had on his life away from the game. It is a reminder of just how gruelling England's schedule has been that he did not have time to make that realisation in the weeks after the Ashes.
It was telling that Tom Harrison, the chief executive, was the only senior figure left to pay Root tribute in the ECB's statement, rather than a coach, a managing director or even a chairman, and even he appears to be on his way out. Andrew Strauss, the interim MD, has been calling the shots for the last two months but his family circumstances mean he will only be a short-term appointment.
The immediate speculation will be around Root's potential successors but at least two key appointments will come first: the managing director and the head coach - or head coaches, if the role is split in two. There may well be a new selector, too.
Rob Key has become the favourite for the managing director role almost by default. Several leading options either opted not to apply (Alec Stewart, Ed Smith and Mike Hesson) or pulled out of the running (Marcus North) and the Telegraph reported on Friday afternoon that he will be appointed next week.
Key was critical of Ashley Giles' decision to concentrate power in the hands of Chris Silverwood. He suggested before the West Indies series that the ECB should return to a split coaching set-up and "some form of selection panel", and said that Stewart would be "perfect" as a short-term coaching option.
He has also mentioned Jos Buttler as a potential captain - Key was critical of Root's leadership - but Ben Stokes is the obvious successor. That Root jumped, rather than being pushed, makes him more likely to accept the role if offered, and his decision to pull out of the IPL auction to focus on the Test team now looks almost prescient.
England's first Test of the summer, against New Zealand at Lord's, is under seven weeks away. There are few breaks in their schedule from that point onwards. They play seven Tests this summer (three each against New Zealand and South Africa, one against India) and five over the winter (three in Pakistan, two in New Zealand), while multi-format players have regular bilateral white-ball series and another T20 World Cup to fit in.
The volume of cricket would be daunting for any team; for an England side without a captain, a coach or anyone in place with the long-term authority to appoint them, it is ominous. For whoever comes in, at least things can hardly get worse.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98