Roger Alton

What English cricket needs now

What English cricket needs now
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You couldn’t ask for a more amiable man than Rob Key to run English cricket: affable, shrewd and universally liked, he has the look of a recalcitrant monk, nipping out the back for a quick drink and a fag. Whether he’s any good is another matter, but let’s hope so for all our sakes. The sequence of events seems a bit upside down though – appointing a managing director first, then a chair and CEO. Without coming over all corporate, surely the MD is the next CEO’s biggest appointment. And wouldn’t the new MD, Key, want to know who he’s working with?

One man I hope he will soon be working with is Jos Buttler, currently tearing up the Indian Premier League. He belted his second century of this season’s IPL the other day, 103 off 60-odd balls, as Rajasthan Royals beat Kolkata in a tight match. And how thrilling to see Buttler, the best white-ball player in the world, flaying the best Test bowler in the world, Australia’s Pat Cummins. Key is known to be a fan of Buttler (as is Ben Stokes). He is also an original thinker, so here’s an original thought. Why doesn’t he try to turn Buttler into a Test match opener in the mould of David Warner? It would certainly be a help if England needed second-innings runs quickly. He’s a solid wicket keeper, too, though he didn’t cover himself in glory in the Ashes. But since the last sight of the current keeper, Ben Foakes, was splayed out in the dirt after his suicidal run-out in Grenada while his captain Joe Root buried his head in his hands… well, maybe Buttler would be a good replacement.

All the smart money seems to be on Stokes as the new England captain, but he’s got quite a lot on his plate already, what with all that batting, bowling and fielding. But Key could do worse than try Stuart Broad, and not just because it would stop him whingeing. He is one of the few credible options, making the side on merit, especially in English conditions. But tell him straight: make a good fist of this and the job’s yours on a rolling tenancy; do badly and it’s thanks for the memories. Luckily Pat Cummins has dispelled the notion that quick bowlers don’t make good captains.

What better time than Easter to remark on the extraordinary resurrection of a man called Christian in the unlikely west London setting of Brentford. Before Christian Eriksen, the talismanic Danish superstar and some-time captain of the national side, pulled on the Bees’ red and white they were hurtling towards the Championship. But with him in the side they have won five of the last six matches – Eriksen starting them all – and survival in the Premier League is assured. It has not all been Eriksen of course, but he is crucial.

He was signed by manager Thomas Frank, another Dane, who had coached Eriksen as a kid, with the guarantee that he could play as much or as little as he liked of any game. The Brentford owner is a professional gambler called Matthew Benham, who also owns a Danish football club called Midtjylland, which is doing better and better under Benham’s Moneyball-style strategies. And his gamble on Eriksen has paid off spectacularly.

So how has Eriksen done it? This, don’t forget, is a man we all thought had died on the pitch just a few months ago during the Euros. My man at the new Brentford Community Stadium tells me: ‘He never panics; he’s always there when you look up and want to pass the ball and he seems to have more time than anyone else. He doesn’t need to tackle because he uses his body shape to block attackers.’ And he’s central midfield, so that’s a lot of ground to cover. He clearly also has the extraordinary gift of making everyone around him feel better. What a story. And how very Christian. And what a candidate for Overseas Sports Personality of the Year.