It must seem like the ideal job. After all you see a lot of cricket.
As a men’s team national selector you travel between Sheffield Shield games at the start of the season, beginning the process of deciding who will represent Australia in the coming Tests and one day series. Along the way you keep an eye out for potential – the up and comers who may one day take their place in the national side.
Our men’s team national selectors comprise of Trevor Hohns who played 152 first class matches including seven Tests. Hohns has had two tilts at the job. After resigning in 2006, he returned to the role in 2014. George Bailey is a recently appointed national selector, with experience of 161 first class matches including five Tests. The third selector is national coach Justin Langer, with 360 first class games and 105 Test matches.
So how rewarding, difficult, thankless or even controversial is the selector role? Former England chairperson of selectors, David Graveney told new selector (and former player) Geoff Miller ‘with this job it’s pretty simple: if we win, the players get the credit, but if we lose it’s our fault.’
Controversy will always follow selection decisions. Look no further than the axing of opener Simon Katich. Katich had been recalled to Test cricket in 2008 and since his return, achieved an average of 50.48. Katich was an accomplished opener.
Watching him approach the crease provided confidence that there was the likelihood of a useful score and if not, Katich was not one to give up his wicket easily. Years after his dropping from the team, a later chairperson of selectors conceded his axing had been the wrong decision. It was largely believed Katich was left out because of his age in 2011.
He was 35 at the time. Ricky Ponting in particular attacked the decision, claiming it affected other older members of the squad who felt they had as a consequence been placed on notice. (Chris Rogers was 35 when he opened against England in 2013). Michael Clarke felt compelled to deny he had any influence in Katich’s dropping, given the incident two years earlier when the batsman grabbed him by the throat in a moment of rage.
Former national opening batsman Andrew Hildich became a selector in 1996 before taking on the chairperson job in 2006. Hildich at times made headlines for reasons beyond his hook shot once being a downfall and the centuries he made. There was speculation he was behind the removal of Brad Haddin two matches after his double century.
(It was announced at the time Haddin withdrew for family reasons). Hildich was held responsible for the high turnover of spinners (ten in four years) following the retirement of Shane Warne. The media especially criticised him for walking on the beach with his daughter and dog at the time of a Test match being played in 2009.
How awkward is it when the coach is also a selector? Is there the possibility of favourites being chosen and not necessarily because of performance or ability? Or are coaches in the best position to assess which players will contribute and therefore should be picked?
Graveney conceded the difficulties of a player having an honest discussion with a coach as they realise that person is responsible for retaining or dropping them. Greg Chappell discussed that as captain as well as a selector, it was a situation that could lead to conflict.
It was difficult for him to feel he had the support of the entire team when a player was dropped.
Graveney also explains what a selector needs to be on the lookout for. ‘It was more driven by the quality of the individual, the strength of character. It’s about being able to spot that.’
Graveney is more tentative when discussing Kevin Pietersen’s dropping from the England team, aside from stating Pietersen was a ‘perfectly good guy to work with.’ Pietersen is less shy about his view, implying the selectors handled it poorly, never providing a reason to him for the dropping.
When axed at the end of the 2013-14 Ashes tour, Pietersen was England’s top run scorer. Having said that, his batting was nevertheless mediocre. But did selectors leave him out of the side for other reasons beyond form?
Michael Clarke claimed his 329 not out in 2012 was spurned by being shown a memo from selectors casting doubt on his place in the team.
Selection (and therefore selectors) will continue to experience controversy. Was spinner Greg Matthews dropped more for reasons of an eccentric personality? Did Greg Ritchie’s nickname of fat cat rub off too much and lead to his not being included in the national side?
Nasser Hussein, former England captain, once said it was harder to get out of the England team than to get into it. That alone said a lot about what he thought of the selection panel.
Team performances will always be assessed by the media and followers of the game. It’s only right that selectors and their decisions are equally scrutinised.