Chairman of the Selection Committee for Tests, 1962

My seven years stretch

G.O.B. Allen

Born at Sydney on July 31, 1902, George Oswald Browning Allen came to England when he was five. After starting at Eton as opening batsman, he became a leading fast bowler for Eton, Cambridge, Middlesex and England. In 1929, at Lord's he took all ten Lancashire wickets for 40 runs. Played in 25 Tests; captained England on 11 occasions; scored 122 in the Test against New Zealand at Lord's in 1931 and altogether took 81 wickets in Test matches. For the last seven years was Chairman of the Selection Committee for Tests at home. Became C. B. E. in the New Year Honours, 1962, for his services to cricket.--Editor.


The first selector of whom any record can be found appears to have been the Duke of Cumberland, the victor of Culloden. He soon discovered that a selector's role was not without its vicissitudes. Faced with a challenge from another nobleman he ordered 22 players to appear before him in order that he might pick the strongest side. Having chosen his eleven, he was promptly challenged to a match by the rejects, who offered to test his judgment by playing for a crown a head out of their own pocket.

The result was a defeat for His Royal Highness and he does not seem to have derived much benefit from this salutary if humiliating experience for, soon afterwards, he also lost the main event. The moral of this story must be that occasionally the selector's lot, like the policeman's, is not a happy one. For my own part I count myself fortunate that challenges of this king are no longer regarded as quite the thing.


Two Committees

In order to understand the workings of the modern selector, it may perhaps be helpful to know something of the organisation within which he operates. There are, of course, two selection committees in this country, one for Test matches at home and one for tours abroad.

The home selectors, four in number, are chosen annually in March by the Board of Control, which comprises representatives from each first-class county and M.C.C. and is the body responsible for the management of Test matches in England.

For tours abroad the selectors are appointed by M.C.C. since all official overseas tours are made under the club's auspices. Fortunately, in practice, the personnel of these two committees is much the same, as M.C.C. generally appoint the four home selectors plus one or two of their own members including the chairman of their cricket sub-committee who, by tradition, acts as chairman. Since for the past six years M.C.C. have elected me chairman of their cricket sub-committee I have as a result been chairman of both selection committees.

My own appointment as a selector for Test matches in this country came about in a rather unorthodox way. One of the Board of Control rules relating to the Section Committee is that prior consent of a candidate must be obtained before his name can be put forward. I was in Australia in the winter of 1954-55, yet in my absence and without my knowledge, Middlesex submitted my name.

I was highly indignant when I heard of it, and, justifiably so I feel, as those responsible were well aware that since World War II I had on more than one occasion declined to be nominated.

Had I thought that my term of office was going to last seven long years, I am certain that no amount of persuasion or flattery would have made me change my mind. Yet, despite the anxieties and a fair amount of toil and sweat, I have no regrets, neither do I bear my friends on the Middlesex C.C.C. committee any ill-will. Indeed, I am grateful to them, for the work of selection can be both fascinating and rewarding.


The Method

Once appointed, the committee's methods must be governed to some extent by the varying composition and personal idiosyncrasies of its members. There are, however, certain fairly well-established customs.

The first meeting generally takes place just before the start of the season when such matters as the lessons of the previous season, policy in its broadest terms, the strengths and weaknesses of the tourists so far as they are then known, and the captaincy are discussed; also a list is drawn up of players to be watched during the season.

The second meeting is nearly always held during the M.C.C. match against the tourists at Lord's. This has been found to be a most convenient occasion, since the fixture is late in May and included in the M.C.C. team are generally many contestants for places in the England XI.

If it is possible during this match to arrive at a decision about the captaincy for the first Test match, or indeed for the series, the appointment is made so that the captain, who automatically becomes a co-opted member of the committee, may be present and fully consulted when the team is chosen.

For some years now the England team has been picked on the Sunday immediately preceding the Test match. This decision has been dictated by the presence on many recent selection committees of active county cricketers, and, of course, the captain, who are unable through their playing commitments, to attend on any other day.

In my time these meetings have generally started with a review of the previous match and the lessons learned both as regards form and tactics. This has been followed by a discussion about the pitch and the characteristics of the ground on which the match is to be played -- such as the heavy atmosphere sometimes prevailing in the North and the slope at Lord's.

Selectors must be wary of early-season form which can often be misleading; they must keep an open mind, remembering always their ultimate aim, a balanced side. Ideally, of course, this contains stability and aggression in the batting, variety in the bowling, at least two specialist fieldsmen, and a blend of youth and experience.


Chief Difficulty

Generally speaking, it is easy to pick eight or nine players. It is the last two or three, involving perhaps the balance of the side, who present the real problem. Here I would say that, when in doubt, it is sound policy to put faith in character and class if it is within reach rather than in a successful record in county cricket.

I can recall several occasions when a good three hours have been spent choosing the last few places, and others when almost as long have been taken over the reserves. In the latter case the reason has generally been doubt about the fitness of one or two players.

Sometimes it has been necessary to vote. This may be inevitable, human nature being what it is, but I am sure that selectors should try to arrive at unanimity on all occasions.

I have often been asked whether selection committees are sometimes guided by intuition. I think the answer is that an occasional choice looks strange because all the facts have not been known or the motive behind it has not been fully understood.

The series against Australia in 1956 provided two good examples of this, namely the inclusion of Cyril Washbrook in the Third Test match and of David Sheppard in the fourth. But both these selections were, in my opinion, entirely logical.

In the case of Washbrook, the batting had failed lamentably in the previous match at Lord's. England were one down in the series and it was therefore no time for further experiments with young or untried players. What was clearly needed was experience and a little aggression in the middle of the batting order.

At the meeting the suggestion provoked a fairly lively discussion, mainly because Peter May, the captain, was at first rather luke-warm about bringing back someone who was 41 years of age and had been out of international cricket for a few years; but once Peter said, "if you're all happy, I am", the die was cast. True it must have appeared to some a retrograde step, but no other player seemed to fill the bill and it became a case of backing class and character in a crisis.

With one or two exceptions, the Press went to town on us and when, after winning the toss, England's score at the end of the first hour stood at 17 for three and our nap-selection, Washbrook, was advancing to the wicket to a great reception from the Yorkshire crowd, morale, certainly of some of the selectors, was far from high. However, at the close of play the England total was 202 for four with Cyril Washbrook not out 90 and Peter May just out for 101.


Gratitude

When I went into the dressing-room to congratulate Peter on his fine fighting innings, he was oblivious to his own achievement and said in his quiet way: "Wasn't Cyril magnificent? Thank goodness I listened to you on Sunday" -- a typically modest and generous comment in a moment of triumph and a wonderful finish to a day I shall not easily forget.

The match, too, had a happy ending and as I drove out of the ground with Walter Robins and Ian Peebles the remaining spectators were kind enough to raise a cheer for the selectors. That prompted Walter to remark that it was a bit different from 1948, when he was a selector. Then, he said, we waited till after dark and nipped out of the side gate. He could perhaps take comfort from the report that once when India were beaten at home the crowd surrounded the pavilion and shouted, "Death to the selectors".

The case of David Sheppard was rather different. The series was now level at one all and thus there was less need for drastic measures. Here we had a bit of luck: at a chance meeting earlier in London, harassed by the fallibility of the England batting, I had persuaded Sheppard to start his holiday a fortnight sooner than planned.

Earlier in the season he had made 97 for Sussex against Australia, but since his return to first-class cricket in the middle of July he had played only three innings, one of which, of 50 odd, I had fortunately seen. Here was a class batsman, full of strokes which we wanted, and a good close-to-the-wicket fieldsman; but had he played enough cricket to have a chance of succeeding in a Test match against Australia?


Optimism Fulfilled

Perhaps our appetite had been whetted by the success of Washbrook; perhaps we again decided to put our faith in class. Anyhow our luck held and he made a fine hundred. As I elbowed my way down the stairs to the dressing-room I found myself next to three parsons to whom I was able to remark: "It's been a grand day for the Church". Judging by their smiles, they fully agreed.

Indeed, fortune was so kind to us that season that Wilfred Rhodes, then in his 79th year and blind, yet still a fairly regular attender at Test matches, could not resist saying: "I wonder who you will pick next time? You're so lucky that if you pick a Chinese he'll make a hundred." There being no Chinamen to hand, we did the next best thing and chose Denis Compton, well on the way to recovery after a major operation on his knee. ( Compton's scores were 94 and 35 not out.--Editor.)

If I have dwelt on some of the successes of the past seven years it is but fair to say that there were also some disappointments, failures and errors of judgment. No selection committee can ever hope to be infallible; the best is the one that makes the least mistakes. It is their duty not only to win the current Test match series but, whenever possible, to look to the future without cheapening the England cap. If they do not, they, or their successors, may well find themselves, through injury or some other eventuality, devoid of a tried replacement for a vital Test match.


Captain's View

It has always been debatable whether a captain should have, without qualification, the side he wants and whether he should be given a completely free hand as regards tactics and approach to the game.

To my mind, the answer to the first point is quite clear: the selectors are justified in using all their powers of persuasion, but should never finally include a player whom the captain is unwilling to accept. It can be fair neither to the captain nor to the player and is therefore most unlikely to be successful.

The answer to the second point is much more difficult; but as the selectors must be responsible in no small degree for the broader issues of policy, they must be justified in bringing pressure to bear on the captain if they think it necessary.

As regards tactics on the field, I am certain that no definite instructions should be given. On the other hand the selectors must discuss tactics with the captain at selection committee meetings, especially when they may have some bearing on the composition of the team. Once a match has started, the chairman may offer an occasional suggestion. I am happy to say that, in my experience, the captain has just as often asked me for my views.

Opinions naturally vary as to what constitutes the best selection committee. To my mind a blend of different generations is of the utmost importance. I do not think there should be a preponderance of active players, because they may be wedded to the prevailing moods and values of county cricket and thus at times unable to see the wood for the trees.

For the older members, practical experience of Test match cricket must be a great asset, as they should at least know what it means to go through the hoop. But all must be devoted to the game, reasonably consistent in their views, with minds of their own yet tolerant of those of their colleagues, and be willing, when the moment comes, to make the difficult or unpopular decision.


Urgent Problem

Looking to the future, I believe an urgent problem lies ahead of the selection committee and the captain, a problem which my colleagues and I have failed to solve though not for the want of trying. It is to inculcate a more aggressive approach into the batting. Without it I fear England are unlikely to regain supremacy in the field of international cricket.

In recent years caution too often has prevailed at times when every effort should have been made to exploit a favourable position. Also there has been a strong tendency to fall back on the defensive as soon as something has gone wrong. These tactics are bad enough in themselves, but the most worrying aspect of them to my mind has been the apparent conviction in some quarters that they pay.

They have on one or two occasions, but I maintain that they have more often brought disaster -- for example, at Leeds in 1953, Barbados in 1954. Lord's in 1956, Durban in 1957 and Brisbane in 1958, to quote but a few. The records surely show that in recent years it has been a fine crop of bowlers who have won us our many victories, certainly not our batsmen when they have been on the defensive.

Strokeless batting can bring little joy or inspiration to the performer, not to mention the luckless spectator. But negative cricket apart, I have frequently had the impression when watching some of our players that they have not been deriving as much enjoyment from Test matches as they might. Cheerfulness and a touch of gaiety is not incompatible with real positive effort and must help to raise morale and with it the standard of play.

In fairness, however, it should be recognised that the life of the present-day English Test player is much tougher, in terms of cricket commitments and publicity, than that of his predecessor of pre-war days, or of his contemporary from overseas. I am sure the limelight of T.V., radio and press has been largely responsible for our safety-first tactics and, indeed, for making some of our players all too conscious of their personal performances.

Whilst it may thus be more difficult for them to generate and sustain the gusto of, say, the Australians and West Indians at their best, I feel that they could, and should, make a greater effort to do so.

Finally, I wish to express my gratitude to the cricket authorities of this country, to my colleagues on the selection committees and to the captains and players for their co-operation and friendship which has made my seven year stretch seem, at any rate to me, well worth while. To my successor I wish all good fortune and as much happiness as I have derived from an exacting but wholly absorbing occupation.


SELECTION COMMITTEES FOR TESTS AT HOME

1899 Lord Hawke, W.G. Grace, H.W. Bainbridge,.
1902 Lord Hawke, H. W. Bainbridge, C. MacGregor.
1905 Lord Hawke, J.A. Dixon, P.F. Warner.
1907 Lord Hawke, H. K. Foster, C.H.B. Marsham.
1909 Lord Hawke, C.B. Fry, H.D.G. Leveson Gower.
1912 J. Shuter, C.B. Fry, H.K. Foster.
1921H.K. Foster, R.H. Spooner, J. Daniell.
1924 H.D.G. Leveson Gower, J. Sharp, J. Daniell.
1926 P.F. Warner, P.A. Perrin, A.E.R. Gilligan.
1928 H.D.G. Leveson Gower, J.W.H.T. Douglas, A.W. Carr.
1929 H.D.G. Leveson Gower, J.C. White, N. Haig.
1930 H.D. G. Leveson Gower, J.C. White, F.T. Mann.
1931 P.F. Warner, P.A. Perrin, T.A. Higson.
1932 P.F. Warner, P.A. Perrin, T.A. Higson.
1933 Lord Hawke, P.A. Perrin, T.A. Higson.
1934 Sir Stanley Jackson, P.A. Perrin, T.A. Higson.
1935 P.F. Warner, P.A. Perrin, T.A Higson.
1936 P.F. Warner, P.A. Perrin, T.A. Higson.
1937 Sir Pelham Warner, P.A. Perrin, T.A. Higson.
1938 Sir Pelham Warner, P.A. Perrin, A.B. Sellers, M.J. Turnbull.
1939P.A. Perrin, M.J. Turnbull, A.B. Sellers, A.J. Holmes.
1946A. J. Holmes, A.B. Sellers, R.W.V. Robins.
1947A.J. Holmes, R.W. V. Robins, J.C. Clay.
1948A.J. Holmes, J.C. Clay, R.W.V. Robins.
1949A.J. Holmes, A.B. Sellers, R.E.S. Wyatt, T.N. Pearce.
1950 R. E. S. Wyatt, A. B. Sellers, T.N. Pearce, L.E.G. Ames.
1951 N.W.D. Yardley, R.E.S. Wyatt, F.R. Brown, L.E.G. Ames.
1952 N.W.D. Yardley, R.E.S. Wyatt, F.R. Brown, L.E.G. Ames.
1953 F.R. Brown, N.W.D. Yardley, R.E.S. Wyatt, L.E.G. Ames.
1954 H.S. Altham, N.W.D. Yardley, R.W.V. Robins, L.E.G. Ames.
1955 G.O.B. Allen, L.E.G. Ames, A.B. Sellers, W. Wooller.
1956 G.O.B. Allen, L.E.G. Ames, W. Wooller, C. Washbrook.
1957 G.O.B. Allen, W. Wooller, C. Washbrook, H.E. Dollery.
1958 G.O.B. Allen, W. Wooller, L.E.G. Ames, H.E. Dollery.
1959 G.O.B. Allen, W. Wooller, D.J. Insole, H. Sutcliffe.
1960 G.O.B. Allen, W. Wooller, D.J. Insole, H. Sutcliffe.
1961 G.O.B. Allen, W. Wooller, D.J. Insole, H. Sutcliffe.
The name of the Chairman of the Committee is placed first.

© John Wisden & Co