There was a deeply disturbing element to Geoff Miller's appointment as England's new chairman of selectors. It was nothing whatever to do with the man himself. He is eminently qualified for the job, and if the men who select the selectors deemed that David Graveney's day was done they could have turned to nobody more suited.
The trouble was the lack of attention. Barely a dozen peopleturned up at Lord's on Friday for the formal unveiling. Many newspapers did not bother sending a representative. It might have been the announcement of the new head cleaner.
Not so long ago, the chairman of selectors had almost mythic status. He was the king-maker, the power behind the captain's throne. Yet here, Miller, who will be expected to pick a team to win the Ashes, was barely paid lip service. How the role, still crucial in the identification of men who can withstand the rigours of Test cricket, was systematically diminished under the old coaching regime.
That was perhaps Graveney's biggest failing, allowing himself to be bullied and manoeuvred by Duncan Fletcher. The emptiness of the room in the offices of the England and Wales Cricket Board was aggravated by what was happening 300 miles up the road in Newcastle, where the new manager of a football club was speaking to hundreds of reporters.
In some ways, Miller's appointment was as surprising as that of Kevin Keegan. His chief virtue lies in the fact that he did not apply for the job. He was determined to be loyal to Graveney, who had been chairman for 11 years and under whom Miller served as a selector for seven. Loyalty is an admirable trait in a man, not least in an England cricket selector.
Miller is not, of course, the chairman of selectors, at least not in name. His formal title is that of "national selector", whatever that means, in line with one of the many woolly recommendations of the Schofield Review, which were as befuddling as they were well-intentioned. He will be joined on the panel by two so-called county selectors, Ashley Giles and James Whitaker, and the coach, Peter Moores.
Nobody has yet managed to explain what a national selector does that a chairman does not, and pretty quickly the old title (first held by the seventh Lord Hawke in 1899, just so Miller knows what he is following) will rightly creep back into use. Nor was anybody of a mind to explain what it was felt that Miller could bring to the role that his friend Graveneycould not.
Hugh Morris, the recently installed managing director of England cricket, chose as usual, albeit charmingly, to shoulder arms to the question while ducking, a policy that may one day lead to uprooted stumps. What Miller brings is 34 more England caps than Graveney – who probably never got much closer to playing in a Test than a passing mention in the Gloucestershire Echo – as well as seven years as a selector. He may also be more plain-talking, an attribute which is in his Derbyshire nature but also an approach with which he will more comfortable because he played Test cricket.
Graveney is unlucky. As the role was becoming full-time for the first time (and about time) he probably deserved a bash. Perhaps it would have been too cosy, however. The Schofield Review, mildly ridiculous though it turned out to be, might as well then have been the Schofield Status Quo.
It was canny of the interviewing panel to send for Miller. He had applied for one of the part-time posts, presumably thinking that he would continue to serve with Graveney. But the interviewers – eschewing the claims of other national selector applicants, John Emburey, Tim Boon and Chris Adams – realised they had a man with experience of selecting and of international cricket.
It had been assumed, loyalty apart, that Miller would not be interested because of his lucrative after-dinner speaking work. Not so. He will still give his beautifully paced, achingly funny self-deprecating talks, though he will, as he said, have to spread himself more frugally. At £80,000 a year and not so many well-paid speeches, he may well have taken a pay cut in the service of the country.
"The art of selecting is a pretty simple equation," he said. "You go and watch people, see what their ability is like, see if they have got that, find out what sort of heart they have got to do the job, then the mental toughness, and then when you have felt they have passed all those tests you go and talk to the individual to find out what they're about. It can take a year or 18 months. The art is not too early, not too late. That's what I learned over the first seven years."
Simple, see. All hail the new chairman.Reuse content