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England coach and captain contenders: Who could Rob Key go for to lead Test turnaround?

Ben Stokes? Justin Langer? Sam Billings? Who could become England’s next head coach and captain?

Following on from the appointment of Rob Key as the new managing director of England men’s cricket, the attention now turns to the two biggest jobs immediately waiting for him in his new role.

Namely, who is going to be England’s new head coach? And who will be the new captain of the Test team after Joe Root stepped down from the job last week?

Here we take a look at some of the leading contenders for both positions as Key’s tenure gets under way…

Head coach candidates

Justin Langer

Justin Langer resigned as head coach of Australia in February after turning down a short-term contract extension

Justin Langer resigned as head coach of Australia in February after turning down a short-term contract extension

Firstly, Key has to decide whether England split the head coaching role for red ball and white ball.

Langer is well qualified in either capacity, and the way in which he spectacularly led Australia to victory in the 2021 T20 World Cup and then an emphatic 4-0 Ashes triumph over England a few months later suggests he could be the ideal appointment under a wider brief.

Former England captain Michael Atherton believes Ben Stokes is the 'obvious' candidate to replace Joe Root' as England's Test skipper

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Former England captain Michael Atherton believes Ben Stokes is the ‘obvious’ candidate to replace Joe Root’ as England’s Test skipper

Former England captain Michael Atherton believes Ben Stokes is the ‘obvious’ candidate to replace Joe Root’ as England’s Test skipper

Langer’s success came at a price, however. He resigned in February after turning down a short-term extension to stay in the role and amid rumours of growing player unrest over his coaching style.

Key even told Sky Sports at the time: “He’s a bit of hard taskmaster, but they’ve come back from sandpaper-gate, they’ve won the T20 World Cup and they’ve won the Ashes easily.”

A hard taskmaster indeed, but could that be precisely what this England team needs?

Nasser Hussain discusses whether Justin Langer would be a good fit as England coach and other possible candidates

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Nasser Hussain discusses whether Justin Langer would be a good fit as England coach and other possible candidates

Nasser Hussain discusses whether Justin Langer would be a good fit as England coach and other possible candidates

Gary Kirsten

Gary Kirsten's last international head coaching role with South Africa came to an end in 2013

Gary Kirsten’s last international head coaching role with South Africa came to an end in 2013

It feels like Kirsten has forever been on the precipice of the England job, having previously applied in 2015 and 2019 before ultimately losing out to Trevor Bayliss and Chris Silverwood.

His credentials speak for themselves, with Kirsten guiding India to victory in the 2011 World Cup before then taking his native South Africa to the top of the Test rankings a year later.

Former England batter Nick Compton believes Gary Kirsten would be a good option to succeed Chris Silverwood as head coach

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Former England batter Nick Compton believes Gary Kirsten would be a good option to succeed Chris Silverwood as head coach

Former England batter Nick Compton believes Gary Kirsten would be a good option to succeed Chris Silverwood as head coach

One potential stumbling block is the fact that Kirsten has not coached at international level since leaving the Proteas in 2013 due to family commitments, and he has since stressed he’d only return in a split-coaching capacity.

But the Test job certainly appeals to him, with Kirsten telling the i newspaper in December: “Your Test side has battled for a while, but it would be a really lovely project to get that going.

“There’s a lot that needs to be put in place to build this Test team out. Maybe the time has come for England to say that Test cricket is their focus.”

Mahela Jayawardene

Mahela Jayawardene has had a previous coaching stint with England as a batting consultant

Mahela Jayawardene has had a previous coaching stint with England as a batting consultant

A slightly more left-field contender could be the great Sri Lankan batsman Jayawardene.

Though he is lacking head coaching experience at international level, Jayawardene has established himself as one of the world’s top up-and-coming coaches by winning three IPL titles with Mumbai Indians since 2017, while he also led Southern Brave to victory in the first season of The Hundred.

It has left Key suitably impressed, as he told Sky Sports previously: “Someone like Mahela Jayawardene would be perfect if you’re looking for someone from overseas.”

His credentials perhaps point to him being more of an option for the white-ball side. However, Jayawardene impressed in a role as batting consultant with the England team during the 2015-16 winter and he has recently signed on for a similar position in the Sri Lanka set-up.

Given England’s recent batting struggles in red-ball cricket, they could do worse than hand over the reins to a man with 11,814 runs to his name in Tests.

Any other contenders?

Paul Collingwood is likely the leading English candidate, having served as interim head coach for the most recent tour of the West Indies. Highly thought of at the ECB, though his ties to the previous regime as an assistant coach might count against him.

Could former Australian captain Ricky Ponting be persuaded to take on the job as England head coach?

Could former Australian captain Ricky Ponting be persuaded to take on the job as England head coach?

Ricky Ponting has previously been talked up for the role by none other than Key himself, but he even admitted that convincing the proud Australian to take the job could be another matter.

Key told Sky Sports: “You talk about international experience, the class he has; the ideal person is someone who wouldn’t want to do the job for love nor money, someone like Ricky Ponting.”

Stephen Fleming. The Kiwi coach is another who has built a fine reputation for himself in the various franchise tournaments around the world, and his appointment would continue in the theme of England looking to the example set by New Zealand after their approach helped inspire their red-ball reset in 1999 and white-ball turnaround in 2015.

Next England captain?

Ben Stokes

Ben Stokes is the favourite to be named England's next Test captain

Ben Stokes is the favourite to be named England’s next Test captain

Root’s vice-captain and the obvious choice to replace him.

That said, England’s talismanic all-rounder only recently returned from a lengthy break from cricket last year “to prioritise his mental wellbeing”, and the question is whether the timing is right for the 30-year-old to take on the Test captaincy.

Stokes said as recently as January he “never really had an ambition to be a captain”, but that statement should also be seen in the context of a loyal Root supporter sticking up for his skipper and friend as he came up under fire following England’s Ashes humiliation.

Nasser Hussain has backed the ECB's decision to appoint his former colleague Rob Key as managing director of England men's cricket.

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Nasser Hussain has backed the ECB’s decision to appoint his former colleague Rob Key as managing director of England men’s cricket.

Nasser Hussain has backed the ECB’s decision to appoint his former colleague Rob Key as managing director of England men’s cricket.

Confirmation of England’s next captain is not likely to come until after the appointment of the new head coach, but Nasser Hussain has urged Key to sound out Stokes ahead of time.

“I would make a journey up the A1 to speak to Ben Stokes to see where he is mentally, physically, and if he wants the job and feels he’s in the right place to do the job,” Hussain told Sky Sports News.

Ultimately, if Stokes answers in the affirmative on those fronts, the job is surely his.

Stuart Broad

Stuart Broad has appeared to rule himself out of the captaincy as he instead focuses on reclaiming his Test spot

Stuart Broad has appeared to rule himself out of the captaincy as he instead focuses on reclaiming his Test spot

The list of alternative candidates is far from plentiful, with many not even assured of their place in the Test team, let alone the captaincy.

Broad, himself, was controversially overlooked – along with long-time bowling partner-in-crime James Anderson – for the Test tour of the West Indies, and he seemed to distance himself from the role in his column in the Mail on Sunday.

Broad said: “It is not something I have given any thought to because firstly I am not currently in possession of a shirt within the England Test team and my focus is very much on changing that by taking wickets for Nottinghamshire over the next few weeks.

“In fact, I would argue we are in a fairly unique position as far as selection for the Test team goes right now in that there are only two players [Root and Stokes] whose names you could write in pen on the scorecard.”

Former England cricketer, Nick Compton, backed Stuart Broad to take over as captain following Joe Root's resignation

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Former England cricketer, Nick Compton, backed Stuart Broad to take over as captain following Joe Root’s resignation

Former England cricketer, Nick Compton, backed Stuart Broad to take over as captain following Joe Root’s resignation

Appointing the 35-year-old wouldn’t represent the most long-term of strategies, but he is a long-admired student of the game and would be well capable of taking the reins during this testing period for the Test team – if he does indeed regain his spot in the side first of all.

Sam Billings

Sam Billings has played only one Test match for England but could he have an outside shot at the captaincy?

Sam Billings has played only one Test match for England but could he have an outside shot at the captaincy?

The Kent connection.

An outside pick for sure, especially given his only Test cap came on the final Test of that dismal Ashes tour and only after injuries to Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow saw him drafted in as emergency cover.

Billings immediately lost the gloves to Ben Foakes for the West Indies tour, but the Surrey man didn’t exactly grasp the opportunity to cement his spot in the side, so Billings could well be back in contention come the summer.

Key will know all too well of his qualities both as a player and as a leader from their time together in the Kent dressing room and, while that connection is no guarantee of a future at Test level, Billings spoke recently of how “I’ve got a taste of Test cricket now and it’s something I really want to pursue”.

Into his fifth year as captain of Kent, Billings led the club to victory in the T20 Blast last year, the County Championship Division Two title in 2018, as well to the final of the One-Day Cup that year. Could it be his captaincy credentials that aid an England recall?

Any other contenders?

Jos Buttler was dropped from the England Test team after the 4-0 Ashes defeat over the winter

Jos Buttler was dropped from the England Test team after the 4-0 Ashes defeat over the winter

Jos Buttler: Sticking with the wicketkeeper theme, Buttler has shown himself to be a more-than-able understudy to Eoin Morgan as captain of the white-ball side and Key is a long-time admirer of the dynamic batsman. Consistent runs at Test level have proven hard to come by, but he’d no doubt prove a popular leader among his England peers.

Jonny Bairstow is also another former England gloveman, but those days are now surely behind him as he seems to have cemented his spot bat in the Test team as a pure out-and-out batsman with hundreds in consecutive Tests across the tours of Australia and the West Indies. As one of the few probably assured of his place, could he be a surprise captaincy contender?

Rory Burns: Similar to Billings, he has built himself a fine reputation as a captain in county cricket, leading Surrey to the County Championship title in 2018. He has recently lost his Test spot, but he does have three Test tons to his name to show he can cut it at the highest level.



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