England set for new era on and off the field as Rob Key steps into 'poisoned chalice' role

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England are set for a return to a split coaching system after Rob Key was appointed as the ECB’s new managing director of men’s cricket yesterday.

Sportsmail exclusively revealed that Key was a surprise contender for the role last month and he came in from left field following half a dozen years as a television commentator with Sky Sports.

This came after Alec Stewart and Marcus North dropped out of contention for family reasons at different stages of the recruitment process.

ECB chief executive Tom Harrison said that 42-year-old Key ‘stood out in a very competitive field,’ although privately members of the governing body were disappointed with the calibre of candidates the position attracted, with some from outside cricket understood to have made the latter stages.

The ECB has appointed Rob Key as the new managing director of men's cricket

The ECB has appointed Rob Key as the new managing director of men’s cricket

Key takes over from Ashley Giles, who was sacked in the wake of the Ashes defeat to Australia

Key takes over from Ashley Giles, who was sacked in the wake of the Ashes defeat to Australia

Unlike his predecessor Ashley Giles, Key has no management experience, although he has previously sat on the ECB’s cricket committee and is known to have strong views on the state of the England team — mainly that it is time to return to specialist coaches for Test and limited-overs formats.

His TV persona has allowed him to play the fool at times and an affable nature has helped him maintain friendly relations with current players. That will now have to change, though, and he was rather blasé about the job while commentating on the third Test between Pakistan and Australia recently.

‘There’s a lot of speculation around, there’s a lot of jobs up for grabs in English cricket,’ he said. ‘A fair few people have been asked, a fair few people are going for these jobs. The thing I have is that you have to weigh up how much golf you can get in doing some of these. For me, the lifestyle thing is the big issue.’

However, Sportsmail’s Nasser Hussain warns that we should not be duped by the dry wit and occasionally cynical tone.

‘I have realised over the last six years working alongside him at Sky that he’s got a very smart cricket brain,’ said Hussain.

‘He’s a cricket man through and through, from grassroots all the way up, and is very hard-working. I constantly receive texts from him about players that he’s watching on live streams, so all this stuff he gives you about being on a golf course is self-deprecating.’

Ben Stokes is the favourite to succeed Joe Root as England captain in a new era for the team

Ben Stokes is the favourite to succeed Joe Root as England captain in a new era for the team

The role is viewed as something of a poisoned chalice and that, coupled with the riches now on offer for management and coaching positions in the Indian Premier League, limited the field of candidates vying with Key for the chance to address what is the England Test team’s lowest ebb this century.

Under Joe Root, who resigned on Friday, the team had won just one of their last 17 Tests and plunged to the foot of the World Test Championship as a result.

It means that Key’s first task will not be to identify the individuals he wants in the red and white-ball coaching roles — he recently stated that he did not see the Test coach being English — but to venture north for a meeting with captain-in-waiting Ben Stokes.

It is understood that Root’s decision to walk — something Key called for post-Ashes — will allow all-rounder Stokes to succeed his close friend without feeling disloyal.

Further car journeys to Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad could happen by the end of the week, with England’s decorated but ageing new-ball duo still in limbo over their international futures. They deserve the clarity not forthcoming since interim managing director Andrew Strauss dropped them for the 1-0 series loss to West Indies — and sooner rather than later.

Managing James Anderson and Stuart Broad will be high in Key's in-tray

Managing James Anderson and Stuart Broad will be high in Key’s in-tray

Strauss can now concentrate on a high-performance review, to which Key will add his input — designed to not only haul England off the floor in the traditional form of the game but to make them top dogs across all formats.

Despite the seismic nature of that goal, Key said: ‘It is an absolute honour to take up this role. The chance to have an impact and make a difference is an opportunity given to very few and I will give it everything I have to try and shape the next great era of English men’s cricket.

‘Although at this current moment it has been a challenging time in English cricket, I also think it’s as exciting a time as I can remember.

Key will work with Andrew Strauss, who took on the role after the departure of Giles

Key will work with Andrew Strauss, who took on the role after the departure of Giles

‘With two of our teams near or at the top of the world rankings and an undoubted amount of talent in our game, I hope to try and bring everyone along for the ride so we can all help take it to new heights across all formats.’

Of Key — who won a total of 21 England caps across all three formats as a player before retiring in 2016 — Harrison said: ‘His passion and knowledge of the game at domestic and international level is outstanding.

‘He is a proven leader and combines an approachable nature with fresh original thinking and resilience which will stand him in good stead.’

He now has six weeks to turn original thought into practical solutions, with England beginning their Test summer against New Zealand at Lord’s on June 2.

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