May 3, 2009

Mike Holmans

Who selects the English team?

Mike Holmans

If I were Geoff Miller, I think I’d be a little miffed at the coverage given to the various England squads announced last week. There is scarcely a mention of the national selector who chairs the selection committee and acres devoted to the influence allegedly wielded by the newest addition to the committee, team director Andy Flower, whose imprint we are supposed to be able to discern.

Excuse me? The head coaching honcho, whether you call him coach, team director or Grand Panjandrum, spends his time working with whomever is in the current squad, giving him extremely detailed knowledge of today’s personnel while preventing him gathering much of interest about potential recruits.

Flower won’t have seen Eoin Morgan, Graham Onions or Tim Bresnan play much, if any, cricket over the last two years, so how can his imprint be seen in their selections?

There might be something in the picks of Graham Napier and James Foster since Flower came to the England job from Essex, but they have earned their elevation by performances in last year’s Twenty20 Cup, mostly played when England were busy losing ODIs to New Zealand and Flower was presumably fully occupied trying to inculcate the basics of shot-selection into Ian Bell.

Geoff Miller, James Whitaker and Ashley Giles are the men who watch county cricket and work out who looks ready for the big time, so why aren’t they given any credit for shaping the new-look England sides? I don’t see Flower’s squads here – I see Miller’s.

We became used to the coach wielding immense power in the Duncan Fletcher era, but it was a power that he did not really want. Reading Nasser Hussain’s account of selection meetings, it is apparent that the official selectors were weak and dithery, the inevitable consequence of which was that the one selector with a clearly thought-out view ended up getting his own way most of the time. Fletcher himself realised after a time that he had become so close to the regular members of the squad that he could not be dispassionate and stepped down as a selector.

The most important influence a coach can have on selection is essentially negative. After working with players identified by the selectors, the detailed knowledge gained enables him to identify the ones to keep, the ones to discard and the ones to send back to domestic cricket to rediscover their technique, desire or ideal waist measurement. What he can’t do is give more than a specification for the type of player the team will need to replace the ones who are not currently measuring up: it is the selectors’ job to identify them, not the coach’s.

The Schofield Report produced following the debacles in the winter of 2006-7 identified the selection process as needing a more professional structure. That has now been implemented, and it is already evident that the new players getting picked have been carefully watched. They have good records in domestic cricket, but not necessarily the best. They are presumably being chosen because they appear to offer that extra something which lifts a player to success at international level – and that can only be spotted by people who see them play, which the national team coach gets precious little opportunity to do.

While I disagree with much of my fellow columnist Michael 'Fox' Jeh’s thesis about international coaches being useful only as modes of transport, I agree very much that the cult of the head coach is becoming dangerously fetishistic, especially in England where people seem obsessed with finding the new Fletcher in the same way as we used to hanker after the new Botham.

Interpreting anything that happens through the prism of the coach being Lord High Everything does us all a disservice. Cricket is too complex for supremos. Credit Flower with the axing of Bell and Harmison if you like, but let’s praise (or blame) Miller, Giles and Whitaker for the players called up instead. Hold Flower to account for what the selected players do, but pay proper attention to how the selectors go about their business too.

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Posted by Siddo on (May 9, 2009, 15:13 GMT)

No matter whatever the poms do with their team the end result is the aussies are gonna beat the hell outtta the poms mate

hehehe

Posted by Yogesh on (May 6, 2009, 3:24 GMT)

Mike, Thanks for the enlightenment on Moores !! I just wanted to say about coaches and their failed teams giving more weight to Chappelli's theory on international coaches. Just that the words have sounded different.

Posted by Yogesh on (May 5, 2009, 23:49 GMT)

But this over-importance to coaches is sadly becoming a global phenomenon perhaps except Australia. Only aussies seem to opine good selectors are more important than coach and they win half the battle. I remember reading more articles criticizing Hilditch and co than Nielsen. Other countries though sadly have been obsessed with Aussie coaches and seem to believe they hold magic wands. Seeing Moores-England, Greg Chappell-India and Buchanan-KKR, I agree even more with Chappelli. India did very well without a coach for a few months than they did with Greg Chappell.

Though i hate to see them win, but just cannot stop appreciating the way the Aussies seem to keep winnning. Peter Siddle who has played hardly 10 tests seems to be more bullish than Bell who has played 40 odd tests. A well-prepared, settled England required every ounce to just cross the line. Can an unsettled, under-prepared England do it ? The same feeling which many of us had when Azhar-led teams went abroad in 90s.

[Mike: To be fair, Peter Moores isn't particularly Australian.]

Posted by Yogesh on (May 5, 2009, 23:35 GMT)

Bell doesn't seem to be short of technique, class or shots but there is that X-factor thats missing. Saying that, except for Pietersen no other English batsman at present seems to possess that. Saying that, I still think Bell might do the job at no.5 even if he underachieves. England finally seem to be getting rid of "lets put back the batch of 2005" obsession. And other obsession they need to remove is Freddie. When he is in form with both bat and ball, he is awesome and makes England look good. But that has happened only 3-4 years in his entire 10 year career.

Mike, i am sad that a good article is being used by some fools putting themselves up for mockery and in the process spoiling our image. And i really do find interesting and dignified the comments of most english fans on many of the websites like Times, BBC etc. I second Jay in that Mike should remove such derusive comments unrelated to the main article. For people wanting to say their opinion/non-sense, Inbox/blogs are there.

Posted by Jackie on (May 5, 2009, 20:49 GMT)

Everyone seems to have the impression this is a new look team. Bell and Harmison were dropped from the team in Feb. Bopara was selected in Barbados so his selection is hardly a surprise. He is now replacing Shah who failed so completely. The two new bowlers are to replace the injured Flintoff and Khan who also comprehensively failed. So the team is not that different from the one who lost the Series and all but lost the ODIs. Everyone seems to have forgotten how Shah was hyped to replace Bell struggling at 3. Bell had a successful record at 5 but was moved to 3 because of Vaughan's resignation. It is one of the mysteries of cricket that instead of moving Bell back to 5 and trying another batsman at 3, KP? Bell has been dropped from the team. So we have lost one of our better batsman who is now scoring loads of runs for his County as his form improves. We can ill afford losing a batsman of his calibre. As for Bopara at 3. So far he has done nothing in Test cricket to justify it.

[Mike: Apart from getting a hundred in forceful style on his last appearance, you mean?]

Posted by Jay on (May 5, 2009, 19:02 GMT)

All guys who are blowing their trumpets about India ,dont forget India went through a very bad patch just before Ganguly took over as captain. History teaches us that every team has its good and bad days. If India is doing better than England at present,doesnt mean this has to be the case forever! The history of cricket from 1970s till now teaches us that different teams have dominated in different eras. So will fools stop petending they know it all,and stop creating disharmony and disrepute to majority of indian fans,who are passionate but never believe in deriding anyone. The current England team has a fresh look to it,lets see how well they do!Sit back and enjoy! Dear Editor,can such distateful e-mails like the ones by Mr.Saptarshi be deleted from this site. Cricket is supposed to promote harmony,his e-mails are like Terrorist attacks !!!

Posted by Vikram Maingi on (May 5, 2009, 9:24 GMT)

Another strange decision about the English Selection Committee: Paul Collingwood will lead England in the forthcoming T20 World Cup and he is the same person who stepped down from LoI captaincy last year, once Micheal Vaughan decided to step down as the Test captain.

[Mike: This is down to Flower, who persuaded Collingwood that it was only going to be for three weeks, after all, so could Colly do everyone the favour of doing the job just for the T20WC, and we'll see where we go after that, pretty please? The problem is that there's no-one else in the squad who is sure of a place and has any leadership background.]

Posted by Tushar Thakkar on (May 5, 2009, 7:52 GMT)

Fellas, apologies for the poor attitude displayed by some of my fellow country men (Indians) in their comments. These ignorant buffoons in no way represent the majority opinion of cricket lovers in India.

Now, with that out of the way, I believe the English selectors have done a good job given the limited experienced resources that they have. Injuries to key bowlers like Flintoff and the patchy form of the batsmen, barring Pieterson, means new players need to be picked to maintain the pressure on the current ones. The only risk that the selectors run is of returning to the chop and change policy of the mid ninties, when almost every player in county cricket got a game. The Darren Pattinson example is actually quite alarming and is a reminder of the approach that has harmed English cricket for so long. In fact, in the past 15 years, the only time English cricket was doing well was when they had a balanced team and a strong captain... something the selectors would do well to remember

Posted by Stan on (May 5, 2009, 2:37 GMT)

As a South African, I do feel that England selectors have an extremely difficult job as the player pool in England is overclogged with Kolpaks and South African expats, and diluted with over-the-mill players that have been hanging onto their spots for way too long (such as Gallian, Ealham, Croft, Hemp, Loye, Law, Crawley, Cork, etc.). These players are unlikely to ever make an impact on the national side again and I would like to see County Cricket place a greater emphasis on youth development.

It is no wonder England selectors are stealing Irish players... I would highly recommend they poach Essex’s Ryan Ten Doschate.

Posted by Justin on (May 4, 2009, 23:06 GMT)

I for one am interested in the makeup of the team because I am Australian!! If they had named a team with Bell and/or Harmison I would've laughed....but I have no idea about these other fellos other than a bit of Bopara. New guys can sometimes come in and have immediate effect.....Sidebottom was highly successful a year or two ago..Siddle was extremely good in his second series....Ishant Sharma was very good against Australia in his first series. Cricket has never been more interesting....Australia smashed India at home, India smashed Australia at home...South Africa smashed Australia away, Australia smashed south africa away. The only team holding onto their old fellas is the Indians....but they are running out of time before they retire and may never be better ranked than 3. Englad did the right thing.....but no one should really get any pats on the back until we find out if it worked!! Ashes is still and will always be the only test series Australians and Englishmen care about

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