Having just three selectors makes much more sense May 23, 2005

Time to make New Zealand's selection panel smaller

Martin Crowe: wanted "to improve the decision making on selection" © Getty Images
New Zealanders might be gripped with rugby fever as winter descends, but an early decision by the New Zealand board in its search for new selectors has created an unseasonal stir on radio. The speed with which NZC rejected Martin Crowe's application for a position on the four-man selection panel is the hot topic. There are two spots up for grabs after Ross Dykes and Brian McKecknie resigned.

Crowe's motivation for applying was simple; he wanted "to improve the decision making on selection leading into the 2007 World Cup". Similarly, he states one of his key credentials as "knowing how to plan for World Cups": New Zealand's stunning run at home in the 1992 tournament under Crowe's captaincy springs to mind. Crowe also says he knows New Zealand's captain Stephen Fleming well, although that is more relevant to the position of coach than that of selector.

Two factors count against Crowe becoming a national selector. The first is logical: his roles at Sky, as cricket producer and commentator, create a potential conflict of interest. The second is more petty: he does not get on with John Bracewell, the convenor of selectors and coach. For that matter Crowe reputedly does not see eye-to-eye with Glenn Turner, another panel candidate, either.

But should an existing personality clash rule out an applicant with claims as sound as Crowe's? The retired Test batsman Mark Richardson thought not. He told the Herald on Sunday newspaper that "Nowhere in the job description for a national selector do I see the need for a 'must get on with John Bracewell' clause". He added: "I'd hope that the process for selecting a player is strong enough to overcome clashes of personality within the panel. But it obviously isn't".

If would be extraordinary if Bracewell's power was such that he could influence NZC's recruitment process. If that was the case then he may as well pick his fellow selectors himself, as coaches of the All Blacks are able to do. Whether it's happened directly or indirectly, the presence of Bracewell - and possibly Turner, too - appears to have stumped Crowe.

Crowe says he subscribes to the school of thought that believes the role of selector is a professional one where any personal issues are left aside. But, he says, "[NZC] are obviously nervous about something". Perhaps NZC is worried that Crowe's desire to "keep Bracewell balanced and challenged" will result in the hot-headedness that Bracewell was noted for as a player emanating at selection meetings?

Where the potential conflict of interest with Crowe's roles at Sky is concerned, Richardson believes it is more likely that it is Sky - and not NZC - that would face any repercussions. In fact, as Richardson also points out, "it may even save NZC from some criticism over selection and tactics that they have taken over the course of the last year from various members of the Sky commentary team".

Crowe says that under his proposal he would retain his full-time producer role - the role of selector being a part-time position - but his commentary commitments would be kept to a minimum; they would be restricted to "calling the game" with less analysis. He would also forgo all writing - primarily his weekly Sunday News column- and other media comment. He says Sky were happy with this. He would, however, want to be free to "comment on selection/player issues" during on Sky's cricket coverage. That in itself should not be problematic for NZC as team selection is an everyday media question for Bracewell in his capacity as a selector. Were Crowe to over-step the mark and divulge sensitive matters on air, his days as a selector would be numbered. No problem there, either.

NZC has had a panel of four selectors since Dykes, McKecknie and Sir Richard Hadlee were joined by Bracewell when he required the role of convenor as a pre-requisite to becoming coach. Under the revamped panel the curious position of Selection Manager was given to Hadlee, the previous convenor.

An even-numbered panel poses the obvious problem of potential voting deadlocks and, with both Dykes and McKecknie departing, the time is ripe to revert back to a panel of three with Bracewell and Hadlee to be joined by one other. That person appears most likely to be Turner and, if chosen, the panel would be perfectly balanced, with a batsman, a quick bowler and a spinner. Unless NZC felt that combination lacked a key selection ingredient, there would be no point in having a fourth member.

Turner is probably the most qualified of any New Zealand cricketer for the position of selector, with a distinguished Test career and two previous stints as national coach under his belt. However, he would not receive a unanimous welcome: Chris Cairns, for one, would be an interested observer.

Cairns infamously walked out on his team-mates during New Zealand's ill-fated tour of the West Indies in 1996, and Turner, who was coach at the time, was sacked shortly after. In his book Lifting the Covers, Turner's descriptions of Cairns' behaviour portrays a spoilt schoolkid rather than a professional cricketer.

Nine years on, Cairns is in a position of unprecedented privilege where he is effectively able to pick and choose when he plays. He now participates in one-day internationals but little else. When the home ODIs ended in early March, so did Cairns' season. When he should have been playing for his province or his club passing on his vast cricketing knowledge to others, he was instead sitting in the Sky commentary box. Would Turner be so accepting of this situation?

Be it chatter over a pint at the local, radio talk-back or on an on-line cricket forum, team selection is a sure-fire topic of heated debate. Cricket fans can pick their best XI irrespective of whether they loathe or love their fellow would-be selectors. As such it is shameful that, given the privilege of being paid to pick their nation's premier team, seasoned international players can't do the same.

Andrew McLean is a presenter of The Cricket Club, New Zealand's only national radio cricket show