The Ashes: Chris Silverwood accepts he is under pressure to deliver with England against Australia
Former Yorkshire player Silverwood took control of the side in late 2019 and has spent much of the last two years planning to reclaim the urn, publicly prioritising the current series on numerous occasions and working hard on plans to reverse England’s poor recent record Down Under.
But things could hardly have got off to a worse start, with Australia winning the first two Tests by handsome margins – nine wickets in Brisbane and 275 runs in Adelaide – and looking a class above in all three disciplines.
The much vaunted planning process has also attracted scepticism, with England’s team selection for both matches criticised. Jack Leach was picked then pummelled on an unhelpful pitch at The Gabba, then dropped for a game that saw 108 overs of slow bowling, including three from England’s repurposed seamer Ollie Robinson.
Meanwhile, the decision to rest 90mph quick Mark Wood from the second Test was met with almost universal surprise. Long-standing issues with making big totals and dropping catches continue to linger, leaving Silverwood under fire heading into the prestigious Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.
Asked if he felt like his position was on the line, he said: “It always is. When you take a job like this, you accept that.
“Do I believe I’m the right man? Yes I do, or I wouldn’t have taken the job in the first place. You’re under pressure constantly, aren’t you?”
As for his ability to lift things from their current low ebb and effect the change he wants to see, he added: “Yes, I do believe I can do that.
“I believe I can and I believe I have the right coaching staff around me to make that happen as well.”
Silverwood could hardly be expected to say any different, of course, with public outpourings of self-doubt hardly the stuff of elite sport, but the mere fact that those questions are already emerging is instructive.
Only one part of the team could realistically claim to be fully functional, the axis of Dawid Malan and Joe Root at numbers three and four, but even then both men have berated themselves for not converting half-centuries into big hundreds.
Root was a visibly frustrated frontman as he took care of the Adelaide debrief on Monday, going out of his way to bemoan the lengths his bowlers pursued. Too often the ball was served up a shade too short, keeping a lid on the run-rate but keeping dangerous drives to a minimum and not attacking the stumps.
Given that the attack was led by the two most prolific and experienced bowlers in English history, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, that criticism could be a source of some tension. But Silverwood revealed Root took his complaints from the press conference to the dressing room, dishing out some home truths as he led some frank exchanges within the group.
“What you saw was what we got in the dressing room after. We had a really good talk, which was needed,” the head coach said.
“The chat we had in the dressing room was very honest. If we want to win this Test series and compete in this Test series, we have to be better.
“There were a few things thrown out there. There were some honest chats, which was great. It was good and it was healthy. We had a really good talk, which was needed.
“I think there are some lessons to be learned – he is right. We have to learn quickly.”
Silverwood took the opportunity to air one of his own bugbears as the debrief continued, referring to a recurring no-ball problem that has already cost Ben Stokes and Robinson wickets due to careless over-stepping.
“Wickets off no-balls are unacceptable,” he said.
“I brought it up and we faced into that.
“This cannot happen. It’s a basic error. The lads accepted that.”
England have decided not to raid the Big Bash League for reinforcements, though the likes of Saqib Mahmood and James Vince are on hand and in the country if required.
England fast bowler Jofra Archer has suffered a fresh injury setback, undergoing a second elbow operation that will keep him out of action until next summer.
Archer has not played at the highest level for nine months and his absence will stretch to over a year after it was decided the recurring stress fracture in his right elbow needed another operation.
He went under the knife on Saturday and, while the prognosis is not yet clear, he has already been ruled out of the three-Test tour of his native West Indies in March.
That series had been the 26-year-old’s stated comeback target but he must now set his sights on England’s domestic campaign in 2022.
Archer’s absence has been keenly felt during the ongoing Ashes campaign.