Botham beaten but Gooch joins panel

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The Independent Online

At long last, the final two selectors have been selected. What has seemed like an eternity of fantastical speculation over two relatively unimportant positions ended yesterday at Lord's when Graham Gooch and David Graveney joined the selection committee. They beat off six other nominees including a vociferously supported Ian Botham.

As the Test and County Board's choice, chosen from the 40 votes cast (two from each of the 18 counties, as well as the MCC and Minor Counties), they will now join the chairman, Ray Illingworth, the England captain, Michael Atherton, and the new coach, David Lloyd, on the committee.

With typical hubris however, the TCCB refused to release a breakdown of the votes when the results were announced yesterday. Botham, not without a tinge of irony, said he felt sure it was "a fair and democratic vote".

This almost perpetual masonic-like secrecy over what has been the first of the season's red herrings does a very public game a disservice, and will allow those discontent over Botham's non-selection to keep the issue rumbling on.

If it does, it will be more misguided than remedial. Selecting can be a mundane job requiring both diligence and patience, combining long hours of watching with having one's ear bashed by overzealous county committee men, who believe their club stalwarts have been long overdue a run in the England side.

It is often a thankless task and until recently an invisible one. Botham is no stranger to helping good causes, but watching endless hours of cricket with only a minimal say at the end of it would test even his proclaimed new found love of watching the game. To say nothing of the conflicts it would bring to his media roles.

As a former colleague recently commented, he would be brilliant at getting some decent wine to the table for selection meetings and pre-Test dinners, but bored rigid otherwise.

The same cannot be said of Gooch (though he too likes fine wine), who apart from being recently involved with England is still playing county cricket. His love for the game has forced him to be more methodical and analytical in his approach to playing longer at the top. While this may have annoyed those who prefer David Gower's more cavalier approach, no one can doubt his honourable intentions and his diligence will serve the selection panel well.

The only caveat remains a logistical one over the time apportioned to his dual roles of key Essex player and England selector, a conundrum Gooch believes will be solved by a bit of "give and take on all sides".

"In principle, I believe in a broad spectrum of views, and having another current player on the panel helps that," Gooch said yesterday. Unlike the Australians though, he believes that the captain should be the "main man" in selection, with the other selectors there to feed information and sound ideas off him.

As one cycloptically committed to the England cause, Gooch is delighted the counties have allowed him to play a part. "As a captain and player, I just wanted to go out and win games of cricket. Now I'm simply interested in trying to build a good system for English cricket and I'm flattered to be given the chance. I realise that I'll only have a small say, but at least the bowlers will have an added incentive now when I come in to bat."

The inclusion of Gooch from the south and Graveney from the west neatly balances the northern flavour of the panel. Politically, however, the selection of Graveney, who recently opposed Illingworth as chairman of selectors before withdrawing his name, may not prove to be an entirely friction-free zone.

By not giving him the selectors he wants in Brian Bolus and John Edrich, the counties are firing a warning shot across Illingworth's bows. His power has waned since the World Cup and the system has reverted back to the one when Gooch was captain of England. Whether or not it can now turn England into a competitive and consistent team remains to be seen.