Australia's captain Steven Smith was surprised at how the national selectors abandoned Cricket Australia's previous directive to focus on choosing younger players in their squad for the first Ashes Test, former opener Ed Cowan has revealed.
In pleading for greater clarity and consistency in selection policies, Cowan said that Smith had not expected the panel to turn away from youth in dropping Matt Renshaw and choosing Shaun Marsh and Tim Paine for the Gabba. Those decisions arrived a matter of weeks after Smith had explained to Cowan that there was no room in the New South Wales team for Cowan due to the need to look at younger players, despite the left-hander's standing as last season's leading run-maker in the Sheffield Shield.
"He (Smith) has had some open and honest conversations with me," Cowan said ahead of his return to the NSW Shield side. "I think he was surprised - without revealing confidential conversations between us - he certainly had a view that that's the way the board had indicated selections were going to go. And I think the selection panel, as directed by Pat Howard, has turned that on its head.
"Once we got to the bottom of why it happened, I was comfortable with that [being dropped from NSW team]. The only sour element comes from the fact that three weeks ago, I was evidently too old, and then someone [Shaun Marsh] who I played youth cricket with gets picked in the Test team. The policy of the young guys playing, I've got no problem with, as long as it is a selection policy that sticks consistently.
"The bottom line here is every player in the system wants it to be at its absolute maximum capacity. We love the Australian cricket team. We want it to win and we are wishing those guys all the very best. But from a systemic point of view, we just want a little more consistency and clarity around selection."
Speaking to ESPNcricinfo earlier this month, Smith said Cowan had been left out for the younger Daniel Hughes as a direct result of the board's directive to think long-term, following a fifth successive Test defeat in Hobart last year. "There's been a directive from the board last year to try to get younger guys into the Australian team," Smith said. "Guys like Matt Renshaw and Pete Handscomb, who came in and did really well. That's got to filter down, I think, into state cricket a bit. I know Ed doesn't agree with it, but Hughesy's been in terrific form."
Cowan, who was a longtime team-mate of Tim Paine for Tasmania before returning home to NSW, said that the Blues' wicketkeeper had reason to be "shattered" by the decision to not recall him, and instead choose a gloveman who has not been the Tigers' first choice behind the stumps for two years. Paine has only kept wicket in one first-class match this season, for a CA XI against the Englishmen in their tour match at Adelaide Oval.
"While Tim Paine's a friend and former team-mate, and someone whose cricket I admire a lot, I really do feel for Nev, and to a degree, I really feel for Matt Renshaw," Cowan said. "So I think, generally, the goalposts moving around selection is pretty hard to take, and I'm sure that's why someone like Pete probably feels very aggrieved and I think he has every right to. Whichever way you want to select the team, it needs to be consistent, and those goalposts of performance need to be set in stone.
"I feel for those guys who are really pushing for Test selection and they really don't know what is required. I can only imagine [Nevill] is shattered, but ever the professional, he's getting on with what he needs to do to prepare for this next game. You're talking about a guy who's a seasoned professional, he'll continue to be a high performer in our team. I wish Painey well and [hope] the Australian team's winning, but hopefully we can get some clarity around selections."