Sunset for Hilditch, sunrise for Australia

For all the dramas and disasters of Hilditch's five-year tenure as the part-time chairman of selectors, culminating in the loss of the Ashes, the wheel may be starting to turn

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
Andrew Hilditch, chairman of Australia's national selection panel, addresses the media, Sydney, May 20, 2009

'The big thing is the young players we're picking are actually impacting and look like they're ready to play'  •  Getty Images

Having presided over a ship that sank during the Ashes, Andrew Hilditch resembles a helmsman somehow still around to see the vessel raised to the surface.
To play the Test series against South Africa, Hilditch was able to name a team that included a teenaged fast bowler with rare gifts, Pat Cummins, retained the same spin bowlers taken on Australia's last tour, and omitted in Dave Warner a young opening batsman scoring mountains of runs because those ahead of him are doing equally well.
All these signs of rude health were pointed out by Hilditch on what was probably the final occasion he announces an Australia Test squad, for the appointment of the new National Selector, a full-time position remodelled according to the recommendation of the Argus review, is soon to follow. For all the dramas and disasters of Hilditch's five-year tenure as the part-time chairman of selectors, culminating in the loss of the Ashes at home last summer, the wheel may be starting to turn.
"Short-term success for the side is probably likely to come down to how our experienced players play," Hilditch said. "But the young talent we've introduced progressively I think but also with Sri Lanka and this squad, there's some really exciting young talent.
"So I think we're certainly going down the right path, Sri Lanka was a step in the process, South Africa's going to be even harder, but again a big, important part of getting back to No.1 in Test cricket. The big thing is the young players we're picking are actually impacting and look like they're ready to play, so it's a great thing."
Hilditch has retained his pacific exterior throughout a year of vast changes in Australian cricket, many of them geared towards improving the ways and decisions of the selection panel. Bizarrely considering how long he has held on to the job as a part-time concern, Hilditch says has always favoured the role being made full-time.
"I was frustrated in the sense we lost the Ashes, that was pretty devastating, but from a selection point of view I've always done it because I love cricket," Hilditch said. "I've been really lucky to have my job for as long as I have. It's my passion, it's not what I do for a living, I do it because I love it.
"I've continued to love it and we've done the best things we could possibly do in our own minds to try to help Australian cricket. I think [the selection position] had to become fulltime, as simple as that, which has always been my view. And it'll be a tough job for whoever takes it over but I'm sure they'll love it."
Many decisions made by Hilditch's panel have been heavily criticised, and a definitive list of mistakes or miss-steps would take time in recounting. Many revolve around the selection of spin bowlers, and it was a source of some relief to Hilditch that Nathan Lyon was able to grasp his chance so strongly in Sri Lanka.
"He did really well in Sri Lanka, obviously a big learning curve and South Africa will be no different, that's a really hard assignment for the whole team but also for Nathan," Hilditch said. "But we think he's up to it, at the moment we're investing more time [for him] in Test cricket than the other forms of the game and trying to get him as much experience as we can.
"The reality is we needed to find the best spinners to play for Australia and there's been some changes to the spinning stocks. Nathan's five-for on debut is a great start and we think Michael Beer can bowl as well. But they're both short on experience, there's no doubt about that and they'll be learning as they go along."
In the case of Warner, his absence from the Test squad gave Hilditch cause to discuss one problem of his time as chairman - few players produced the sorts of startling performances that demanded inclusion in the Australian team, an unsatisfactory state of affairs that has been changing in recent months.
"He went to Sri Lanka so he's close," Hilditch said of Warner. "But Usman [Khawaja] we thought definitely needed to be still in the squad and obviously Shaun Marsh took his opportunities in Sri Lanka really well. So there's actually quite a few batters at the moment, who are putting their hand up and deserve selection.
"So It's hard on those players but it is a good thing, we haven't been there for a while where people are actually demanding and pushing hard for selection and that's a positive thing."
There was one decision about which Hilditch was utterly unequivocal as chairman. That was his insistence that Michael Clarke replace Ricky Ponting as captain whenever the older man chose to finish, a view that was not always shared by the Cricket Australia directors to which Hilditch has reported.
"He's been fantastic," Hilditch said of Clarke, who led Australia with tremendous poise on his first Test tour as captain in Sri Lanka. "The one thing that has happened after the Ashes is there's been a lot of changes taken place. The review [means] there will be further changes, but the reality is we've had a change in leadership, a few changes in coaching positions as far as fielding coach and fast bowling coaches and a slightly different playing group.
"But what they have done is really worked hard and they've made a lot of progress so it's been very encouraging."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo