Cricket: Counties support cull of England selectors

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MIKE GATTING yesterday admitted his disappointment at being sacked as one of England's selectors, but asked that neither he nor his fellow ex-selector, Graham Gooch, be saddled with all the blame for what has gone wrong thus far in the series against New Zealand.

Gatting and Gooch, who will still act in an advisory capacity, were dismissed to reduce the selection panel to three: the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, who has just been appointed for a further two years; the coach, Duncan Fletcher; and the captain, Nasser Hussain.

"I am not really surprised by the decision. I suppose we have not done very well," said Gatting, whose three-year tenure was due to end in February.

"As selectors we know we are there to be shot at. If they now feel it is right to put me on one side that is fine, I understand. I am not bitter.

"But it has been disappointing, because we picked the best players and they have not performed. People say: 'Look at youth', yet when you ask them to name names, they struggle to come up with any. I don't think you can blame me or Graham. The reason we brought back the old faces was because the younger ones were not doing much."

The Hampshire captain, Robin Smith, who appeared in a few Tests with Gatting and a few more with Gooch, said: "I am disappointed for them both, but I just hope there is still a place for them in English Test cricket because they still have an enormous amount to offer."

But around the counties the consensus was one of agreement with the selectorial cull. Mike Fatkin is the secretary of Glamorgan, where Fletcher also remains coach until the end of the season. And Fatkin injected a note of optimism into the future of English cricket.

"I think we have tried every permutation over the last 10 years," he said. "I think the three-man selection committee is the way Duncan would like to work. A lot depends on the quality of the selectors as well as on the quality of the players they pick. While I do not know Nasser Hussain, I do know Duncan and David Graveney, and I think they will do well."

Up in Lancashire, their chief executive, Jim Cumbes, said: "My feeling is that you only need a couple of people to select the side. I think the days of selection committees are outdated. It is unwieldy. I think three selectors should be enough, providing they get good assistance from the counties. But they do need to speak to coaches, rather than staying in the committee room."

And that was a point which was reinforced by David Gilbert, the general manager of Sussex and a former Surrey coach and Australian Test player. He condemned the old guard, saying: "In my two years here at Hove, visits from the selectors have been few and far between. I can only recall two or three.

"Gatting came down here when he was playing for Middlesex and Gooch came here last winter to help coach Chris Adams. I have seen David Graveney once or twice.

"Certainly the players don't feel they get a fair go. I know we are not one of the leading counties in the country but we do have players such as Robin Martin-Jenkins, James Kirtley and Jason Lewry who are all possibles for England A selection, but they do not get properly assessed, it seems. Two or three visits in two years is unacceptable."

Overall the changes appear to have pleased most people, but the overriding impression is that it must not stop here. Fatkin again: "They have to develop a strategy for the next couple of years rather than for the next Test. There is a difficult balance to be maintained between the short and the long term needs."

And Cumbes, who played for Lancashire, Surrey, Worcestershire and Warwickshire as well as enjoying a successful career as a professional goalkeeper with West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa among others, added: "I think counties will only be pleased as long as these are not cosmetic changes and do not stop with the selectors."

Leicestershire's James Whitaker, whose solitary England cap came against Australia at Adelaide in 1986, said: "It makes sense to reduce the size of the selection committee and it also makes sense for Duncan Fletcher to have an input for The Oval Test. But the guys who play at The Oval should be the ones who are wanted for the tour to South Africa."

Whitaker, who will manage England Under-19 at the World Cup in Sri Lanka in the New Year, announced his retirement from the first-class game earlier this summer. He added: "When it comes to picking younger players we have a lot to choose from. The selectors will have to ask a lot of guys around the country - umpires, senior players and coaches - about them. And once selected they have to make sure those youngsters are given every chance to succeed.

"They must help them learn to cope with the hardened environment of Test cricket."