This was the year when Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum were brought together by Rob Key to change England and, as they did so, changed Test cricket.
But little has been said about another hugely influential figure who also played a big part in one of English cricket’s greatest years.
It was Sir Andrew Strauss who first began to notice and promote him to the ECB. Ed Smith thought the world of him. Now Key swears by him.
Mo Bobat was a hugely influential figure in England as they transformed Test cricket
Meet Mo Bobat, the man at the heart of all the big decisions but someone who stayed in the background throughout a turbulent period that saw high-profile leaders come and go.
Perhaps it’s because he’s a 39-year-old former PE teacher from Leicester who played club rather than professional cricket.
Or because he is reluctant to focus on himself and would rather continue with work that sees him involved in almost everything connected to the team.
Not many outside the inner sanctum of cricket would know him. But the ECB’s performance director likes it that way. ‘I’m very comfortable talking about my work and the work of our team but not talking about myself that much,’ Bobat told Sportsmail in his first major interview.
‘I don’t mean to try to get out of the way but I want to keep my head down and try to make progress. I don’t like to procrastinate and waste time.
Brendon McCullum’s appointment as head coach has seen England win nine of their last 10 Tests
‘I like change and I like growth and development. Nothing is perfect but we always strive to be better and I try to live by that. If we’re going to do something let’s do it better than the last time. I don’t want to repeat mistakes. I try to keep my energy up and focus on that.’
So what does Bobat do? He is effectively No 2 to managing director Key who rose through the ranks to become performance director in 2019 after first moving to the ECB in 2011.
That means helping select teams, like the one that made history with a 3-0 whitewash in their first Test series in Pakistan in 17 years, liaising with players and counties, playing a part in recruitment of England coaches and organizing the Lions and Under 19s programmes.
He recently oversaw Rehan Ahmed’s development to the point where England felt comfortable fielding him for his Test debut in Karachi at the age of 18 and he responded by becoming the youngest bowler in Test history to take a five-wicket haul haul.
Bobat is obsessive about his work. He needed to because quiet moments were rare.
‘You work at the sharp end of cricket. It’s a sport I love so it’s a real privilege to play the role, and every day is different,’ he said.
ECB managing director Rob Key swears by the skills of the 39-year-old backroom guru
‘One day you might be working with the head coaches and Rob on selection and a senior tour, the next you might be doing something connected to science and medicine and the next you might be talking to counties, which is a something I’ve done. many.
‘It has its pros and cons because you can intervene and get involved in almost anything to do with performance but you can also be blamed for anything. The way I do paper now is different from how I did it under Ashley Giles and Straussy. You have to adapt to the strengths and experiences of all the men. My No 1 duty now is supporting Rob.’ In doing so, Bobat knows everything about every England player who has risen through the ranks during his time at the ECB.
He tracked and monitored Ahmed’s progress before recommending him for Pakistan’s first senior call-up. He will be at the center of what’s next for the leg-spinner as he is guided through the potential minefield of conflicts between international, county and franchise cricket.
‘We have insight into players from when they were 14 or 15 until now,’ said Bobat.
‘So if Rob or Brendon ask me about, say, Saqib Mahmood, I have a lot on the brain about him. We also have a lot of data, insight and history on him. You can give a really rounded picture. I think Rob was surprised and impressed by the amount of information we hold on the players.’
Bobat has been monitoring Rehan Ahmed’s progress and recommended him for his Test debut
It is the recognition and nurturing of elite cricketers that particularly appeals to Bobat. ‘You get some talent that screams and is easy to spot and some that whispers and is harder to notice,’ he says. ‘With someone like Sam Curran it’s not hard to see. He had the ability to make an impact in games and was not a difficult investment.
‘But the talent that whispers is a bit trickier. Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope are good examples. Maybe they weren’t very obvious when they were young but suddenly they had a big growth spurt in their development. Every case is different. You can make predictions and have degrees of certainty but there will always be some disappointments.
‘It was a pleasure to be a part of their journey. You help people make their dreams come true and that’s why I got into teaching and coaching in the first place. You invest in them and you want everything to go well but you also have to see the wood from the trees.’
Now Bobat has invested in a new selector, the role Giles vacated when he sacked Smith in the ill-fated move that gave Chris Silverwood all the power.
England secured a 3-0 whitewash against Pakistan for the first time in their history in December
Luke Wright will not hold the power of his predecessors and Bobat will continue to have a significant voice choice.
‘I have a preference for having a selector,’ Bobat admitted. ‘I really enjoyed working with Ed. I thought he was fantastic and learned a huge amount from him.
‘One of the things I like is the brave decision-maker so I wanted to work with Rob. Bold decision making makes you feel alive and I enjoyed working with Ed and Rob.’
How does Bobat feel working with former England players? Could the players or selectors feel inferior to him because of his lack of professional experience?
‘It’s not something I think about,’ he insists. ‘From the moment I started working at the ECB I didn’t spend any energy thinking, “Well I didn’t do it so I can’t have an opinion on that”.
‘I try to be curious about what it’s like for people who have been there and done it and understand their experience and learn from them.
Bobat said he keeps information on almost every player in preparation for Key’s questions
‘I don’t know what it’s like to go out and bat against Australia at the Gabba in the Ashes because I’ve never experienced that but I can relate to it by listening.
‘I think about other things about my background, like state school education, south Asian heritage, and I understand that I’m a bit of an anomaly. But I’m proud of that because it shows that it doesn’t have to be a route to get somewhere. It drives me to be the best version of myself.
‘I’ve been ambitious for a long time but when I was younger, I never thought I’d be involved in some of the things I have now. I feel very privileged so I think I always approach my work in a positive, optimistic and can-do way.’
It’s a philosophy that has taken him and England far in 2022 and shows no signs of slowing down.