When Australia's four selectors meet in Brisbane on Wednesday to determine once and for all the team for the first Test, they may be the final selection panel ever to do so for an Ashes side walking onto the Gabba in the baggy green. Every four years, Australian players are under a harsher microscope during the Ashes than any other time and it's worth noting that this time the selection panel of interim chairman Trevor Hohns, national coach Darren Lehmann, Mark Waugh and interim selector Greg Chappell is facing equally close scrutiny.
Should the current method of selection last until 2021, it will be in defiance of the strong opinions of the Cricket Australia (CA) team performance manager Pat Howard. Among many other battles, Howard has spent much of the past six years arguing strongly that the model of a selection panel is outdated and difficult to square with the lines of accountability set out in the Argus review of 2011 that spawned his own appointment.
ESPNcricinfo understands that Howard has petitioned for the disbanding of selection panels in the form known classically to Australian cricket on a number of occasions. His preference is to replace the present model with a streamlined set-up where the national coach has the final call on any tight decision, having consulted with a national selector who is the single point of communication for the labyrinthine debates over who should be in and out.
That would look like the model adopted six years ago by New Zealand Cricket (NZC), when the former Australian coach John Buchanan was acting as the Kiwi game's impresario. "The national selection manager would operate with the head coach to form a 'two man selection panel', with the head coach of the team having the final say on debated decisions," Buchanan said in 2011.
In Buchanan's vision, a large part of the role would involve working with first-class coaches to assess leading domestic players, as well as other high-performance staff and stakeholders, including the captain.
Drawn from a background in rugby union high performance, Howard is less wedded to the concept of a selection panel than others in the national game. He is also known to favour the use of deep statistical analysis and computer-based modelling to judge the suitability of players. In that sense, Sabermetrics, the concept championed by the Michael Lewis book Moneyball, is far more in line with his thinking than the anecdotal or visual evidence compiled by selectors watching domestic matches.
This would also align - a favourite term of CA in recent years - with the now predominant domestic model whereby the old state selection panels have been pared back to simply feature a talent manager and the coach. That sort of operation was emphasised by the New South Wales chief executive Andrew Jones (also the former head of strategy at CA) in explaining the decision to drop Ed Cowan in favour of the younger Daniel Hughes for round one of this season's Sheffield Shield.
It would also offer the possibility of simplifying lines of accountability regarding selection of the national team, a problematic area that Don Argus tried to address by naming the Australia captain as a formal selector. Pre-Argus, Ricky Ponting had often complained that as captain but merely a consultant on selection he had "leadership but no ownership". But that decision was rescinded two years into Michael Clarke's tenure, after which he made complaints similar to Ponting's.
The greatest obstacle to such structural change appears to emanate from the CA Board. Decisions over the shape of the panel remain one of the nine directors' two remaining responsibilities directly related to the performance of the national team.
For more than a century, the Board has been responsible for selector appointments as well as holding the final approval on the choice of Australian captain. In a climate where CA's move to an independent Board has encouraged corporate achievers to lobby for directorships, the ability to debate such questions is deemed an attractive element of the job when lined up against countless other drier discussions on other boards.
Equally there are questions among directors about whether CA management, in this case Howard, should be given full responsibility for such appointments. The perceived importance and prestige of selection roles was underlined earlier this year when longtime director Mark Taylor stated publicly that he was interested in serving as one, having been a CA director for more than a decade alongside his commentary for Channel Nine, as well as universal respect as the man who captained Australia to world dominance between 1994 and 1999.
The Board's desire to remain directly involved was demonstrated aptly little more than a year ago, when directors put together a resolution for the panel that convened amidst a fifth Australian Test match loss and either side of the resignation of then selection chairman Rod Marsh. Their directive was principally to look for younger players with prospects of representing Australia over the long term.
At the same time the shape of the panel was redefined to include as interim Chappell, the national talent manager with a youth focus, while the role of Waugh was more sharply defined to be primarily responsible for the selection of the Twenty20 international team. Nevertheless, Waugh remains one of four Test selectors and is in Brisbane for Wednesday's meeting to choose the Ashes squad.
Hohns, also appointed on a purely interim basis, chairs a panel sitting astride a national network of talent managers that was installed in 2010 to help supersede the idea of selection panels purely concerned with picking the best 11 players in each state, when a more strategic outlook was deemed necessary.