Blessed are the Blokes, for they shall inherit the earth. There has been a steady evolution in the governing class of English cricket. For many decades the sport was ruled by the Blazers. The Blazers were faceless. They smelt of crusted port and Chesterfield sofas. They ruled the committee room with an iron liver-spotted fist. Over time they staked out the summer sport as their own private fiefdom.
The Blazers were eventually flushed out by the Marketing Men. The Marketing Men were rainmakers and deal-brokers. They didn’t wear blazers. They wore ties and suits. They knew about revenue streams. They made deals and monetized the product. Over time they staked out the summer sport as their own private fiefdom.
And now we have the start of something else. Shrunken back, sandblasted by confusing cultural forces, English cricket has entered a new managerial age, at least in its visible faces. Tom Harrison is still hanging in there. But around him there is at least the appearance of change.
With the appointment of Rob Key as managing director and Brendon McCullum as Test coach, English cricket is no longer fronted up by blazers or wonks. It is instead being run by… guys. The future is here – and it’s wearing Stan Smiths and tweeting memes. Welcome to the rise of the Blokes.
Keysey, Baz, Morgs, Stokesey. This is the new world order in English cricket. Informal, matey, dressed down, banterish. Dudes. Bros. Dudes with views. The Blokes are in the house, and they’ve junked the standard interview process. They know a guy. A really cool guy. And the clincher, the real key, is they’re not like those other people. That’s the big thing.
Or at least that seems to be the spin. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the new order to date is convincing the world that this is something new. That, as Key has suggested, the Blokes are in some way outsiders, mavericks, an astringent alternative to the usual “choir boys” who fill leadership roles. In reality of course this is simply a different clique, wearing trainers not brogues, and presenting its lack of qualification and experience as an act of liberation, a tearing down of the barricades.
How did we get here anyway? Key didn’t actually apply for the job of managing director of English cricket. He was approached by his golf partner, Andrew Strauss. McCullum was approached in turn by Key, having been recommended by Eoin Morgan, who is one of McCullum’s best mates. McCullum has never coached a red-ball team. Key has never managed anything. Old thinking bro-skis! Key has also never overseen an interview process, but he knew enough to declare that McCullum had “smashed” his one by having vision, vibes, mad energy and the like.
So it came to pass. The cool guys are staking the summer sport out as their own private fiefdom. And to be fair these blokes, with their skinny trousers, their cool shades, their everyman vibe, do represent a current version of sporting masculinity: the sensitive alpha guy, banterish and clubbable, but also tattoo-sleeved and gym buffed and, like, totally down with mental health and cool views, more aggressively inclusive than you, high on big no-dickheads energy, on artisan coffee, on semi-ironical yoga, on just being a great guy.
And who’s to say it won’t be a success. This is undeniably an exciting time, and a super-talented lineup. What’s not to like about Key? He knows cricket from the ground up. He’s intelligent and strong willed. People who know him seem to adore him. The same goes for McCullum, who is a really impressive person, who knows about teams and systems, and who was a very good orthodox Test cricketer.
It’s a change too. We’ve not really had blokes before. We had Peter Moores, who was bright and capable but also resembled a minor Doctor Who seeing out his final series. Trevor Bayliss was good but almost laughably relaxed, basically a hat on a stick. Chris Silverwood tried hard, but was more dad-at-a-barbecue than cool guy head coach. Bring on the bros. This feels, at the very least, like the modern world.
And yet, we should be wary of confusing it with something new, or indeed a setup that seems to have any obvious answers beyond hopeful window dressing. McCullum is going to “give England an identity.” That identity will, we hear, be vibrant, and brave and forward looking, because those are words that sound good. Key, meanwhile says he will appoint “the best people”. But who are the best people? There have already been some scathing comments about things like coaching qualifications. Perhaps elite England cricket well now be run on a kind of strongman model, a world of populism and personal appointments.
Is this good? Does it make cricket seem more likely to survive and grow? Because beneath the dude-ness of it all there are some uncomfortable truths here. Most obviously, it is laughable that English cricket can preach about inclusion and opening up to new people, and then set up its seat of power in this way, by avoiding due process in favor of phone calls from mates and people who are good on TV . This is the problem, right there: closed shops, invisible barriers, hiring based on good feelings and whoever is in your eyeline. Even odder, those inside this process don’t seem to see any problem with parcelling out power in this way. Er, bros? Not cool.
What will success look like from here? Winning games? Playing exciting cricket? Getting people to care? It is telling that such is the sense of doom around this team, this format, that the general response is a kind of hopeful shrug. Keysey has jumped down out of the comms box. The Spice Girls are presenting Top of the Pops. But there is at least talent and energy and charisma here. Like a military coup in a failing state, the Blokes have taken over. We wish them well. Just don’t call it a revolution.