Rob Key: Chance to have 'skin in the game' made England director role irresistible
Former Sky Sports commentator tempted by chance to make a difference to England
Rob Key, England's new director of cricket, says that the chance to have some "skin in the game" was the primary reason why he was willing to forego a commentary role with Sky Sports that he had previously declared to be the "best job in the world" and take on the onerous challenge of reviving the flagging fortunes of English cricket.
Key, who was officially unveiled at a press conference at Lord's on Thursday, has already made his first big appointment by naming Ben Stokes as Joe Root's successor as Test captain, and said he is "optimistic" about identifying a new red-ball head coach before the start of the New Zealand series in June, following the sacking of Chris Silverwood in the wake of this winter's Ashes.
However, the England team appointments are merely the most forward-facing of the many glaring vacancies facing the ECB. Tom Harrison, the CEO, is widely expected to stand down this summer after seven years in the role, while the board is now on to its second interim chair in six months, with Barry O'Brien quitting on Tuesday due to ill health. To compound the sense of paralysis, their search for a full-time successor to Ian Watmore is also back to square one, following this week's dissolution of the original Nominations Committee.
All of which means that Key himself still does not know who he will be reporting to in the long term, not that this particularly seems to concern him.
"A lot of people report in to me, and then I report to the CEO, and then the chair, whoever they may be," he said. "Ultimately I want good people around me who can debate and make good decisions. That's it.
"I don't really know a lot about what's going on there. I just hope that, in the chairman's case, they appoint the best person because that's what I'd do. You don't try to appoint a dummy, just the best people you can.
"We have this view of the ECB, but even when I was working with Sky, I never felt there was anyone in there saying 'let's try and make English cricket worse'," Key added. "They get beaten up and battered quite a lot at the moment, but they are not trolls trying to make bad decisions. They are good people trying like hell to make cricket as good as they can, and find ways to make the next generation love cricket as much as we did.
"What I've had is a lot of support from people who are desperate to get cricket back on track," he said of his first week in the job. "They want to make decisions and get going. At the moment, it's an exciting time. We've got good candidates [for coach], a good captain, good players, it's a great place to be."
Even so, it's a bold career choice from a man who, by his own admission, had been "cruising" around the world, enjoying the "good life" of a TV commentator - most recently as part of team covering Australia's first tour of Pakistan in 24 years. However, having previously held a de facto director of cricket role during his playing career at Kent, Key admitted he couldn't resist the chance to once again make a tangible difference to the game.
"Before I went to Pakistan, [Strauss] intimated 'would you be interested in this kind of job?' What I said is 'I could be interested'. Because you've got your view on what English cricket should do. Nasser [Hussain], [Mike] Atherton, myself … we're all stubborn and think we're right. But when the chance came, I thought, now actually I have some skin in the game. We always used to say on [Sky], we want to find solutions, not just say 'that's rubbish, that's rubbish, that's good'. So, come on then, what's the solution to these things? Now I've got that chance to see.
"There's not much else I know other than cricket, really," he said. "It's what I love, it's what I talk about all the time. And it's a chance to make a difference. I hate talking like that, but genuinely, what an opportunity really. English cricket is in a state of flux to say the least. That's what intrigues me about the job, and what I hope to be able to make a difference on. We'll find out if it's good or bad.
"That's the way I worked when it was selecting teams at Kent, or deciding on who the coaches should be. It was always about getting people together and debating and then come up with the best answer, and if you put smart people in a room then you come up with good decisions.
"That's the beauty of what I think I have as well. I have a good network of people that I can ask for their opinion. I'm not now going to go and work for the ECB and just only restrict myself to people in that organisation."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket