England take party line

Stephen Brenkley reports on a cricket rarity - a committee that produced action
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If Nothing else, England's new selection panel is irrefutable evidence that reports from Lord's working parties are not after all designed for the express purpose of gathering dust in a secret cellar under the Long Room.

It is intended, naturally, that there will be a great deal else, starting with picking a side to regain the Ashes. But so far the Acfield Report, by the standard of previous such documents, has been resoundingly successful.

The working party into the selection and management of England teams, led by David Acfield, the former Essex spin bowler who is now the county's chairman, made its recommendations last August. They included the establishment of a body called the England Management Committee, which would have overall responsibility for team affairs and would choose the chairman and two selectors.

Those suggestions have come to pass. True, the new chairman of selectors, David Graveney, does not meet Acfield's personal criteria that the post should be filled by a former England player, preferably a captain, but that has been offset by the appointment as selectors of Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting. The captain, almost certainly Michael Atherton, will probably be invited to join the panel later, although his precise voting power may yet be a matter for debate.

As Acfield, who is now also one of the six EMC members has said: "No system will be perfect. It is up to us to find the right one to work for the benefit of both the England team and the counties. Perhaps we should be defining responsibilities a bit more clearly to get the right balance. That's the key."

He and his fellow working party members were especially keen on the division of power. Thus, while Graveney's selectorial role is still of crucial significance he is far from the omnipotent being that past chairmen have sometimes appeared to be. Bob Bennett, chairman of the EMC (and like the present England coach, David Lloyd and Atherton, from Lancashire) is in overall charge and will, for instance, handle disciplinary matters.

Graveney is the 20th chairman of selectors, the first being Lord Hawke, who was supremo in 1899 and came back for another bash in 1933 when he was 72. Much has been made of Graveney's youth (he is 44) but this is not a new idea. His Lordship, for one, was only 39 when he first picked a team and in the past 50 years Norman Yardley, at 36, Freddie Brown, at 39, and most recently Doug Insole, at 39, have been younger. The last of three chairmen not to have played Test cricket was H S Altham, in 1954, the coach, administrator and historian who played only 55 first-class matches. He was in charge of the panel whose chosen XI lost to Pakistan for the first time but then they also gave Frank Tyson his debut.

Acfield examined the methods of selection in the other Test countries before submitting his blueprint. He will have found no uniformity. In Australia, for instance, the five-man panel, now led by Trevor Hohns, invites no input from captain or coach. And while Hohns played a few Tests his equally successful predecessor Lawrie Sawle played none.

In South Africa the five selectors, headed by Peter Pollock, ask captain and coach their opinions. In Pakistan, the selectors tend to change frequently but look at the inspired choices they come up with. The West Indies have just changed their five-man panel, now chaired by Wes Hall. Both captain and coach get a vote in selection.

"It's the first time we've had a coach really," the West Indies Cricket Board chief executive, Steve Camacho said, "so we're still finding out if it works. We also want to extend the period of office to two years. Different things work in different countries and a system works better you know if you've got a winning team."

By having present players on the panel in Gatting and Gooch, it may appear that England are being revolutionary. Hardly. In the early days amateur players were usually nominated and the idea of current professionals being selectors was first mooted in 1926 when two old hands, Jack Hobbs and Wilfred Rhodes, were co-opted. In the event they also played. That year, England won back the Ashes.

Aussies collapse, page 17