Long-serving club man steps up to management after departure of Paul Allott
As they attempted to recover from their side’s innings and 199-run mauling by Warwickshire in the Bob Willis Trophy, Lancashire supporters could at least take comfort from the news that Mark Chilton has been appointed the county’s new director of cricket performance.
Chilton, who will be 45 on Saturday, is effectively taking over from Paul Allott, who is stepping down after four years in the role of director of cricket. The slight change in title reflects the fact that Chilton will take responsibility for all men and women’s élite and pathway cricket at Emirates Old Trafford rather than the more broad-ranging responsibilities of his predecessor.
Chilton’s pedigree and commitment to Lancashire cannot be doubted. Although born in Sheffield, he was brought up in Sale and educated at the Manchester Grammar School and Durham University before making his first-class debut in 1997. He then played all but one of his 196 first-class games for Lancashire, captaining the county for three seasons from 2005 until 2007.
In the latter role he nearly led his team to what would have been their first County Championship in 73 years but they fell 24 runs short of victory against Surrey on the last day of the season after an epic pursuit of 489 to win. On that occasion Chilton was consoled by his opposite number, Mark Butcher, but four years later he was to be found singing with the fans on the outfield at Taunton after the title had been won. The loyalty of Emirates Old Trafford’s new director of cricket to the Red Rose was pledged early and it runs very deep.
Chilton retired at the end of the 2011 season after scoring 9556 runs in a 15-year career. He then spent a couple of years or so looking after the cricket at MGS before returning to Lancashire and has recently combined the roles of performance director and assistant coach to Glen Chapple, a relationship he does not see being altered very much by this appointment.
“My relationship with Glen hasn’t really changed that much in 20 years,” he said. “I’ve captained him and he’s captained me and then I’ve been working under him for the last four years. There is a deep respect there and I think we’ve complemented each other’s abilities.
Five years ago Chilton did a Master’s degree in Sporting Directorship, which was plainly a preparation for the time when he wanted to combine his practical coaching with a more managerial role. But neither his fidelity to Lancashire nor his qualifications prevented him undergoing a tough series of interviews before being appointed and facing the challenges that lie ahead in domestic cricket’s rapidly changing environment
“I went through a rigorous interview process but that was a learner for me as well,” he said. “This is probably a job I’ve had my eye on for a while now with regards to progressing my career and I can’t wait to get started.
“A lot of uncertainty exists at the higher level of county cricket once players begin to push for ECB contracts and also franchise cricket. My view and that of most people at the club is that it is necessary to have a continuous stream of talent coming through, almost an over-supply of cricketers, in order to sustain success over a period of time. We’ve always had a good pathway in place and we now have good foundations on which to build.”
During recent seasons Chilton has often been found carrying a sidearm and a bag of balls to the nets, where he would give one of the younger batters on the staff the practice they need. Inevitably some of that hands-on role will cease in his new role but it is impossible not to think of Chilton doing some practical work with players like Josh Bohannon and Rob Jones, whose development he has done so much to encourage. In some seasons he has been seen with the second team as often as the first and there is little doubt that Lancashire have appointed a man whose knowledge of the players on the staff is as great as anyone at Old Trafford.
Now, however, he will be expected to sign players, formulate overall strategy and deliver success. He will also, on occasions, have to tell young cricketers they are being released. One imagines he will find that as difficult as any of his other tasks.
Or to borrow a phrase from Fawlty Towers : “Now comes the tricky bit”.
The advantage for Chilton is that he knows Emirates Old Trafford inside out. So rather than being deterred by the challenges that lie ahead, he is ready for them and even excited to meet them head on.
“To be a kid who was brought up in Sale, a couple of miles from Old Trafford and to be given this responsibility now is pretty mind-blowing in lots of ways,” he said. “But I’m very proud of my journey which has involved captaining the club and now involves the ultimate responsibility for driving Lancashire cricket forward. Everyone who knows me understands my passion for the club and I’m pretty humbled to have that task.”
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications