Traditionally after an emphatic Ashes defeat the captain or the coach is jettisoned. But this time the response from the England and Wales Cricket Board has been more measured and decorous than usual. Two months after the defeat in Sydney Andrew Strauss has announced a modest shake-up of England’s selection process.
There are obvious reasons why Joe Root and Trevor Bayliss have survived a 4-0 defeat in Australia. Root is a young captain, still coming to the terms with the job. He could be an excellent leader provided he remembers that his prime function is to score stacks of runs.
Bayliss, meanwhile, remains the likeliest man to oversee England’s first World Cup triumph. The one-day team, despite some reservations about the potency of the bowling, still look promising and are often exhilarating. Moreover the Ashes defeat, while very disappointing, avoided the headlong disintegration of the tours of 2006‑07 and 2013‑14. And Bayliss has already announced that he will be leaving in 2019, at the end of his contract.
Instead of high-profile heads rolling James Whitaker, after 10 years on the panel, five of which he has been the national selector, stands down ostensibly in the most amicable way imaginable. “It feels that the time is right, with this new approach, for me to move on,” he said.
There will soon be a new national selector with the post being advertised this week. He/she will then appoint a “full-time, independent selector” who will join the head coach (Bayliss) on a panel of three.
This means that the anomaly of having cricket directors of county clubs on the panel has been removed. Mick Newell of Nottinghamshire and Angus Fraser of Middlesex are both men of great integrity but they must have found themselves in the odd compromising position throughout their time on the panel.
Both could apply for the post of national selector but would have to give up their county jobs if appointed. The same must apply to the other selector since he/she must be “full-time” and “independent”. In addition there will “designated discipline-specific scouts, including the current ECB national lead coaches”.
The reduction in number to three on the panel puts more onus upon Bayliss as head coach to have a significant input. In the last 15 months of his tenure it will surely not be possible for him to point out, albeit with engaging candour, that “I’ve never actually seen him play”, when England’s latest recruit enters the dressing room.
The role of the selectors can easily be underestimated though it would be preposterous to claim that the Ashes campaign would have panned out any differently with alternative selections. The most obvious mistake, the blindly optimistic choice of Mason Crane, was hardly decisive though it did reveal that even a bunch of craggy old pros can be seduced by wish fulfilment during the selectorial process. Bayliss, Newell and Fraser hardly conjure up the image of “gin-slinging old dodderers”, which was Ian Botham’s memorable description of the selectors three decades ago.
The national selector, whoever is chosen, has a tough task. An open and honest relationship is required with the coach and the captain. Most of the time he/she will listen to their opinions and follow them. But just occasionally there must be the strength and wisdom to take a wider perspective and to disagree with the view from the dressing room.