WHEN England appointed Trevor Bayliss it was to achieve success in white-ball cricket as much as anything else.
The Australian, who has announced that he is standing down as England coach once his contract expires after next year’s Ashes, was recruited in 2015 with an eye firmly on the 2016 World T20, last year’s Champions Trophy and next year’s World Cup.
Bayliss led England to the World T20 final and to the Champions Trophy semi-final and has overseen significant improvements in the one-day game.
In Test cricket, however, England have stumbled, losing 18 of 38 Test matches under Bayliss including the recent 4-0 Ashes defeat.
As England tomorrow embark on the first of five one-day internationals against Australia, looking not only to get that Ashes result out of their system but also to continue preparations for next year’s World Cup, Bayliss is in a strange position.
Although he retains the support of the players and the England and Wales Cricket Board, which has ruled out the sort of witch-hunt that followed the 2013-14 Ashes whitewash, there are those who believe that he should go now, or, at the very least, could yet go soon.
Jonathan Agnew, the BBC cricket correspondent and former England pace bowler, feels that a poor one-day series and defeat in the forthcoming two-Test tour to New Zealand would end “a really bad winter for English cricket”. He added: “To hear the coach saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll step down in a couple of years’ time’, I felt very uneasy about hearing that.”
Had Bayliss not been brought in with the 2019 World Cup so strongly in mind, with that marquee competition being played on English soil, a witch-hunt might already have burned him at the stake.
Few football managers, for example, would chalk up 18 defeats in 38 games for the simple reason that they would not have been allowed to get that far because they would already have been sacked.
The ECB, however, finds itself in a difficult position, for to remove Bayliss now would be to risk so much of the good work that he has done in the white-ball formats.
The ECB are effectively hoping to bumble along with Bayliss until that glorious moment when – all being well – he lifts the World Cup and rides off into the sunset, main mission accomplished.The YP’s Chris Waters
Their only options, if they were to sack him, would be to do so at the end of this winter (to do so next summer would surely be a risk too far in respect of those World Cup aspirations) or else go down the split coaching route and have a separate head of the Test team, a path that the governing body are understood to be reluctant to take.
As such, the ECB will be praying desperately not only for a competitive showing in the upcoming five ODIs against Australia, but also that Test results improve when the circus moves on to New Zealand. England then face a Test series at home to Pakistan and India next summer which might not be a walk in the park either.
In other words, the ECB are effectively hoping to bumble along with Bayliss until that glorious moment when – all being well – he lifts the World Cup and rides off into the sunset, main mission accomplished.
But there is already disquiet in some quarters that with so much emphasis on how best to prepare for the next Ashes series in Australia in 2021, two years of planning will effectively be put in place by a coach who will not be there to see the job through, and whose successor might have different ideas anyway.
For what it is worth, I also hope that England can bumble along with Bayliss until September next year because they could well do without the attendant upheaval.
The year 2019 was always the natural point to break with him in any event, given the significance of his white-ball remit, while the man himself does not believe in staying anywhere beyond a four or five-year period, arguing that a coach’s voice might otherwise grow stale.
For what it is worth too, I stand by my initial belief that England should not have appointed Bayliss in the first place and that they decided to recruit the wrong Australian.
Jason Gillespie, the then Yorkshire coach and the new coach of Sussex, might not have had a CV scattered with white-ball trophies, but he has played at the highest level, has won two County Championships with Yorkshire and knows the county game inside out, while his man-management skills are second to none.
Bayliss, however, deserves credit for what he has achieved, with England’s one-day side unrecognisable from the ragtag outfit that so disappointed at the 2015 World Cup in Australasia.
England are now fourth in the one-day rankings – level on points with third-placed Australia and on the coat-tails of the top-two, South Africa and India – and are perfectly capable of achieving their dream of lifting the World Cup next year.
Bayliss’s laid-back approach has fitted in well with a group of young, exciting players who have shone in an environment that has promoted aggression and flair.
Those qualities are not the only pre-requisites for success in Test cricket, of course, but Bayliss – along with assistant coach Paul Farbrace and captain Eoin Morgan – have turned England into a formidable white-ball unit.
The series against Australia will be interesting if only to see how England respond to the Ashes defeat.
The biggest question, of course, remains the same – how do you get out Steve Smith, although with the white ball this time as opposed to the red.
Can England maintain their white-ball surge?
For Bayliss’s sake – and that of the ECB – one must hope that they do.