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Meet the scouting guru at the heart of England's selection revolution

Mohammad Bobat, the ECB's Player Identification Lead Getty Images

It is probably fair to say that even among the more well-informed England cricket fans, the name of Mo Bobat might not be particularly familiar.

Yet the 36-year-old former PE teacher from Leicester has become such an important member of the behind-the-scenes team at the ECB that whenever England selectors Ed Smith and James Taylor sit down with head coach Trevor Bayliss to weigh up the shape of the next Test or ODI squad, Bobat will be in the room with them.

As the ECB's Player Identification Lead, Bobat is there to provide Smith and company with data and information on any player they might wish to discuss at a level of detail - and compiled at a level of rigour - that their predecessors in that crucial role could only dream about.

"I have to stress that I'm not there as a decision-maker," Bobat said. "That is their role. Mine is to provide information, whether from scouting reports, performance analysis or whatever, to check and challenge in terms of the selection process to ensure it is robust, and to share insight, if the selectors request it, around the options that might be suggested by our player pathway system."

It has all come about as a result of a revolution in the England selection system in which Bobat has been a key figure, having been appointed to his current job in 2016 after Andrew Strauss, in his role of director of England cricket, had identified selection as an area that needed a complete overhaul - although the first seeds of this revolution had been planted soon after Bobat joined the ECB.

A sports science and management graduate who was a teacher for seven years but who had experience of cricket as an age-group coach at Leicestershire, Bobat started work at the National Cricket Performance Centre on the university campus at Loughborough in 2011.

"Although I started with the under-17s, much of my time with the ECB has been with the under-19 programme and the genesis of where we are now with player ID, much of it came from what we did at that level," he said.

"We were quite fortunate that Ed Barney, who is now the performance director at UK Hockey, was studying at Loughborough for a PhD in talent identification and what he was doing prompted a lot of thought and consideration."

With the encouragement of Simon Timson, now performance director of the Lawn Tennis Association and then head of the England development programme, Bobat took some of Barney's research and ideas and looked at ways in which he could apply them to cricket.

"We did some work around our Under-19 programme in terms of how we identify and select players and we made some enhancements and formalised a few things and I guess that had a bit of an impact," he said.

"In 2016 Straussy and David Parsons [ECB performance director] asked me to extend some of that thinking over to how we recruit players for the Lions programme, and in the winter of 2017 Straussy said he would like me to extend this to the senior England team."

Bobat's work has only emphasised that the manner in which England teams were picked in the past belongs to the dark ages in sporting terms.

Whereas selection came with a large element of randomness, dependent on which selector had been where or spoken to whom, and in which some players got lucky and others did not in finding their best form at the right moment, nothing now is left to chance.

A comprehensive network of county informants has been put in place and ECB scouts are assigned to watch players several times over - "multiple eyes, multiple times" is something of a mantra - in order to file tailored reports designed to answer key questions. Once players are in the England system, detailed information on every performance is added to the database, with that information in particular helping the selectors decide who needs to be tested in which environment.

Bobat believes it is no coincidence, for example, that Ben Foakes made such a successful England debut in Galle, in what is traditionally a difficult venue, having already played in Sri Lanka several times for the Under-19s and the Lions.

"I'm not there as a decision-maker. My role is to provide information and insight"

Underpinning the whole process is a carefully designed set of principles, setting out clearly defined goals and a process for achieving them, which Bobat drew up based on his research, including an ongoing study of the methods employed by other sports both at home and abroad - the England football team and Premier League clubs, Olympic sports, and particularly sports in the United States - seeking to add their best ideas to his own.

"You try to beg and borrow from a number of environments," he said. "In the States, for example, they are really smart with their analytics and they have a formalised process because they've been doing this in a more professional way for longer.

"At Chelsea I was impressed with the level of time they spent training their scouts, all of whom have their own personal development plan and go through an appraisals process, while a club like Manchester City has got some really sophisticated performance analytics and predictive metrics, and Arsenal have done a lot of work around depth analysis and shadow teams.

"What we are doing in cricket, particularly in this country, is still quite embryonic if you compare us to sports like football, but there are areas of our decision-making and thinking that I think are well ahead of some of those environments.

"I think we have a real opportunity in England cricket, in terms of having someone fulfilling this role around talent ID and player identification, although I must emphasise that although I've led the direction of this, without the scouts we would not have the information, without the analysts there would be no data.

"But there are not many equivalents across the world and there is a real opportunity for us here to get the march on a few other countries and I think we are starting to do that in a few areas."

The proof of the effectiveness of all this will be results, of course. Next year's World Cup and home Ashes series are currently at the top of the clear priorities required in Bobat's guiding principles - but winning away from home is another in that category, so England's victory in the first Test in Galle - their first away from home in 14 Tests - can only be seen as encouraging.