Waving goodbye: Downton out in England shake-up

England Cricket managing director's more than a year's rein comes to an end on Wednesday


Afp April 09, 2015
A file photo of Paul Downton. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON: Paul Downton's turbulent and brief reign as managing director of England Cricket came to an end after just over a year in charge on Wednesday when the England and Wales Cricket Board announced he would be leaving his post.

The former England wicketkeeper played a key role in the highly controversial decision to axe star batsman Kevin Pietersen from the national set-up after England's 2013/14 Ashes whitewash in Australia.

Downton's watch also coincided with England's woeful performance in the recent World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, where the team exited before the knockout phase.

"The existing England team set-up will change with immediate effect, with Paul Downton leaving his position as Managing Director of England Cricket," an ECB statement said.

"A new leadership appointment, focused on performance will now be created and report directly to the chief executive."

The Pietersen affair and England's World Cup debacle made Downton's position precarious and he appeared to be undermined when incoming ECB chairman Colin Graves seemed to offer an olive branch to Pietersen.

Downton's lack of clarity over why the ECB had acted in the way they did in ditching former England captain Pietersen led to to widespread criticism.

It prompted months of speculation, culminating in South Africa-born Pietersen's damning autobiography, released in October last year, which prompted fresh blood-letting within English cricket.

Pietersen, who has spoken of his desire to play for England again, has rejoined Surrey for the 2015 county season in an attempt to boost his chances of an international recall.

The arrival of a new chief executive in Tom Harrison did little for Downton, who took charge 15 months ago when Harrison's predecessor, David Collier, was in post at Lord's.

Harrison, announcing the changes in the set-up, said Wednesday: "The England Cricket Department needs to deliver performance at the highest level and our structure needs to be accountable for reaching the standards we aspire to.

"The new role we are putting in place will deliver an environment where world-class performance is at the heart of everything we do."

Downton's time in charge also saw England lose a home Test series to Sri Lanka last season but, after falling behind, they recovered to defeat India 3-1 in a subsequent five-match series.

Harrison, who took over in January, had previously spoken of his desire to streamline the ECB, with Graves too calling for change.
Downton, 58, replaced Hugh Morris in October 2013, shortly before the Ashes whitewash.

His departure appears as much down to his strident public backing for England captain Alastair Cook, only for the opening batsman to be sacked as one-day skipper and dropped from the World Cup squad shortly before Christmas ahead of England's warm-up campaign.

England then endured one of their most humiliating World Cup campaigns, failing to beat a Test nation and defeating only Scotland and Afghanistan.

This led to renewed criticism of England coach Peter Moores, controversially brought back for a second stint in charge of the national side with Downton hailing him as the 'coach of his generation'.

Harrison paid tribute to Downton by saying he was a man of "great integrity".

Downton's departure from the ECB will inevitably shift the spotlight back on to Moores, with England currently on tour in the West Indies, where their three Test-series starts in Antigua next week.

"The touring team in the West Indies are aware of the changes," said Harrison. "The process for appointing the new role, with sole responsibility for the England set-up, will begin immediately."

Former England captain Michael Vaughan, who said he was happy to take a call from the ECB, told Sky Sports: "It's inevitable there would be change — but there's a deeper rooted problem within England cricket.

"In Test cricket we are all right but the Kevin Pietersen issue has been a debacle from the start right through until now.

"The World Cup was a disaster because of the way the team played...This is going back 20 years."

Downton's departure came on the same day that the 2015 edition of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, the sport's 'bible', said he had been involved in a "nexus of self-preservation" involving several other senior ECB figures.

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