In a way, you almost throw your hands up sometimes – but what else can you do?” For a man tasked with turning around his side’s poor form, Trevor Bayliss doesn’t sound particularly bullish.
England have gone eight Tests without a win following their comprehensive nine-wicket defeat by Pakistan at Lord’s at the weekend. The reverse marked the first time they had lost the opening Test of the summer since 1995 and was their first at home in May since 1921.
The Lord’s result means head coach Bayliss has a record which reads: played 41, won 15, lost 20, drawn six; for captain Joe Root it’s eight defeats in 15 Tests.
Recently under Bayliss’ stewardship England have looked bereft of confidence with the bat, sloppy in the field and less threatening with the ball.
A defeat or draw in the second Test, which starts at Headingley on Friday, would mean a third successive series defeat for England, following chastening tours of Australia and New Zealand.
It could also spell the end of Bayliss’ tenure as Test coach. And yet, when questioned by the media, the unflappable Australian gave off the impression of someone unconcerned by the prospect of losing his job.
“I’ll look forward to a bit more gardening if that’s the case,” Bayliss replied when it was put to him that his head could be on the block. “I obviously understand some of those questions that are asked – that’s the lot of a coach. If someone higher up makes that decision, so be it.”
Bayliss was appointed in the summer of 2015 with improvement in white-ball cricket the clear objective. With the memory of a miserable group stage exit from the World Cup fresh in the mind, England’s director of cricket, Andrew Strauss, made a decision to prioritise one-day results.
He started well, securing the 2015 Ashes and winning away in South Africa. But just as Eoin Morgan’s one-day side began to hit their straps, the cracks opened in the red-ball game.
Under the direction of an inexperienced captain, England have chopped and changed in selection. They have spoken a good game, of positive intent and of blooding new players, but problems have persisted.
James Anderson and Stuart Broad are over-relied upon, while the runs of Strauss, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell have never been replaced. Alastair Cook and Root are the only two current batsmen to average over 40 in Tests; of the 12 batsmen to have debuted since 2014, only the now woefully out-of-form Haseeb Hameed has done the same.
Reasons aplenty have been suggested for the struggles: the marginalisation of the County Championship, the lack of Test cricket on free-to-air television and the perceived failures of England’s Loughborough performance centre being the most often cited.
But one that certainly has merit is the top-directed focus on shorter formats. Strauss has made it clear the 2019 World Cup is the holy grail, while England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Colin Graves and chief executive Tom Harrison have busied themselves pursuing the future, in the form of a much-maligned idea for a new 100-ball domestic competition.
Meanwhile, the white-ball-focused coach has been left to get on with it in the Test arena. Success in the longest format has been overlooked.
There’s been a great deal of change at the ECB of late, with Ed Smith appointed selector, Lions coach Andy Flower stepping up to cover Strauss while he’s on compassionate leave and batting coach Mark Ramprakash moving across to coach the Lions. With all this movement off the pitch, could a new Test coach be imminent?
“I've committed to September 2019,” Bayliss reiterated after the first Test. “I know what you're getting at but, from a Test point of view, I don't know how anything can be done differently.”
The admittance that there is no change of tack coming is revealing and may prove a damning one for Bayliss.
England have experimented before with separate coaches. Ashley Giles was appointed one-day and Twenty20 coach in 2012, with Flower remaining as Test coach. While their previous experience may not have worked out, it does appear to offer a glimpse into the future.
One-day skipper Morgan stated in January that he would favour splitting the roles, while Bangladesh are considering appointing separate coaches for differing formats.
You sense Bayliss may welcome the opportunity to step away from Tests and focus on his area of expertise. The ECB may have its hand forced by the next result.
“We have shown in past that when we haven't played very well, come the next game, we can pull our finger out and play well,” Bayliss said. “I expect they're a little embarrassed about way they played and the performance in the next one will be better.”
Whatever happens, the events at Headingley over the next week will shape the future of England’s Test side.