On the eve of the Ashes series, English cricket tonight announced two key changes. It was impossible to dispel the notion of a new beginning when the series against Australia ends in January.
James Whitaker will become the National Selector (effectively the panel’s chairman), replacing Geoff Miller, who has decided to retire. Having won only one Test cap, he has played 29 fewer matches for England than his new boss, Paul Downton, who will become the new managing director of England cricket.
Both announcements were a surprise in their own way. Miller had not let it be widely known that he wished to step down seven years after replacing David Graveney but after overseeing an era when England have three times won the Ashes, claimed their first major one-day trophy and become number one in the world in both Test and one-day forms of the game, he may have thought there was nowhere else for him to go and nothing else to prove.
At the age of 61, it seemed the perfect time to withdraw and he will now presumably concentrate on his hugely successful and invariably hilarious after-dinner speaking career.
Whitaker has served his apprenticeship as a selector on Miller’s panel since 2008 but will now have much less time to work in the family confectionery business. An immensely amiable soul, always keen to talk enthusiastically about the game and its players, he will have learned much about judging them in his summers of touring the counties.
Whitaker played his solitary Test match for England on the Ashes tour of 1986-87 and if he did not quite live up to that early promise he became an accomplished county batsman and captain of Leicestershire, who won two Chanmpionship titles in his time.
As a National Selector he may be more forthcoming than Miller, whose first option, in almost direct contrast to his night job, was a dignified reluctance to impart too much information. There will now be a gap on the panel to succeed Whitaker as one of the selectors.
Downton was an unexpected choice to succeed High Morris as the man in charge of English cricket from the Test team down. If it is hard act to follow - Morris, an undoubted success, was cautious, organised, pragmatic and sensible – he is accustomed to that.
More than 30 years ago he was burdened with replacing Alan Knott as a wicketkeeper batsman, first with Kent and later with England. Downton went on to have a splendid career, most of it with Middlesex where he went to ensure a life without Knott, and won 30 Test caps for England as a highly skilled operator. Since his enforced retirement from the game, after a freakish accident when he was hit in the eye by a bail, Downton has forged a career in the city with Cazenoves and JP Morgan.
Downton appeared in one match in the 1981 Ashes series and all six in the victorious 1985 team but 16 of his 30 Tests were against the all-powerful West Indies of the 1980s. What with that and Knott, everything after may seem a doddle.