In his first in-depth interview since leaving the England job, Chris Silverwood talks to Tawhid Qureshi about his new role as Sri Lanka men’s head coach and reflects on a turbulent time in charge of England.
Following a disastrous Ashes campaign and Caribbean tour, the sweeping changes to England’s cricket hierarchy have made the Chris Silverwood era already seem dim and distant. In his new role as Sri Lanka head coach, Silverwood isn’t dwelling on the past and insists he’s intent on looking to the future.
“It’s the next step of the journey,” he tells Wisden.com, “to actually push myself out of my comfort zone and go try something new and learn new skills, new tricks, new ways of doing things, just to broaden my horizons.”
After taking a couple of months off, by April the lure of getting back into international coaching proved hard to resist. “It’s a role that I grabbed with both hands,” he says. “It was a role that excited me because of the players they have. I felt I could make a difference.”
When the conversation turns to England, the former Yorkshire and Middlesex fast bowler exudes the air of someone who was just grateful for the opportunity. Silverwood’s ascension through the ranks was rapid: it was only at the end of 2015 that he was named Essex head coach, and a little over two years later he was England’s fast-bowling coach. In 2019, Silverwood took the top job. The whirlwind ride may have ended in defeat, but Silverwood still describes his Ashes adventure as “a huge honour”.
“The Australia tour was hard, they are a very difficult team to beat in their own backyard. To be involved in those Tests, it’s exciting, it’s a huge honour and it’s an experience that obviously I will treasure and learn from.”
Silverwood is careful not to create waves by divulging anything contentious about his time with England. He pointedly remarks that he’s “not inside that camp anymore” and is guarded when reflecting on specific lessons learnt from his England experience.
But revealingly, he describes the enjoyment derived from the simplicity of his current job, in sharp contrast to the multiple aspects of his previous role.
“There were quite a few lessons that I’ve taken on board from a personal point of view. I’m here as head coach. I’m not a selector. I give my opinions but there are people there to do the squad selection. The best thing is it’s really simplified things for me and allowed me to do what I love, which is to get out there and to coach these guys.”
The Sri Lanka role will offer Silverwood a chance to reset, and to properly make his name on the international stage. His tenure has begun well, with a hard-fought 1-0 Test series victory over Bangladesh. The series-sealing win in the second Test saw Sri Lanka implement two tenets Silverwood has been keen to enact: consistent starts with the ball, and big runs with the bat. Bangladesh were 24-5 and 23-4 in their two innings in the second Test, with hundreds from Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal lifting the tourists to a first-innings total of 506 in a 10-wicket win.
“From a batting point of view, everybody wants to score big runs, but I want them to do it their way,” Silverwood explains. “I don’t want to turn them into something they’re not, I encourage them to use their skills to put the runs on the board and find the confidence to do that. It’s basic strategy that most Test teams will use.
“During practice I was emphasising the first 12 balls, just to make sure that the bowler was switched on. We were practicing how to be switched on at that moment in time, so there’s been an emphasis on actually practicing what we’re going to have to do and just being specific with the small things.”
The new role will be a departure in several ways, with Silverwood forced to recognise the fewer resources at his disposal. His relentless positivity, something which irked England fans at times during the winter, is sure to benefit him in his new role, with a willingness to adapt vital.
“When you are working with England, you’ve got every resource you can think of available to you,” he says. “You are very lucky in that respect. They cover absolutely everything. Not every country is able to do that. I think sometimes having fewer people around can actually be a bonus. As long as you’ve got the right people you can make things happen.”
Silverwood is now based in Colombo, with his family visiting him as often as possible. Working in a foreign country, albeit a familiar one from previous England tours, brings new challenges.
“An English-speaking coach coming into a different culture is always going to be a problem. Having a Sri Lankan as an assistant coach [Naveed Nawaz] who speaks excellent English really helps. If there’s anything that I’m not sure is getting across, I can ask Naveed to say it in Sinhalese. Equally it’s up to me to watch, observe and learn about the culture as well.”
He’s also doing this amidst the backdrop of a country in turmoil. A grave economic crisis Sri Lanka, its worst since gaining independence in 1948, has led to significant political unrest.
“I’ve never once felt in any danger or anything like that. I’ve never been uncomfortable in the very short period of time before going to Bangladesh. Nothing seems to be affecting the guys here at the moment. I respect and appreciate there’s a lot going on in the country. I’m there for cricket and the boys here on tour [in Bangladesh] are focusing on cricket as well.”
Silverwood was often characterised as someone who was out of his depth during his England tenure. A role with Sri Lanka offers few promises of being any easier – consider the challenges of a language barrier, an unstable political atmosphere and being away from his family – but perhaps this stripped-back role, of just being the head coach, is what he needs.
If there are any scars from his England days, for the time being Silverwood is keeping them hidden. He shows nothing but goodwill towards the new England regime of Rob Key, Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes. “I wish them well and I genuinely mean that. I want them to do well and for England to do well.”