THIS WEEK has raised the question of how many people are needed to select a Test team? The West Indies have four - David Holford, Roy Fredericks, Andy Roberts and the captain. Makes sense. The current leader, a pace bowler, an all-rounder and an opening batsman - three recently retired players. Note recently. They do not have as many individuals to choose from, of course, which is one major advantage. But surely you do not need more than four opinions.
Cumbersome selection committees are synonymous with English cricket. Assemblies of fuddy- duddies gathered round mahogany tables mulling over trivialities. Tom, Bert and Sid have all got to make their spiel. It happens in most amateur clubs every Monday night of summer. But this method does not have to extend to the Test panel. A chairman of selectors, preferably under 50, captain, manager and chief scout should be sufficient. More people, more confusion. Just for the record, my four would be Mike Denness - a generous, shrewd judge closely involved in the game due to his business links with the sponsors of the County Championship, Mike Atherton, Geoff Cook as manager with Keith Fletcher as the roving spy, just pipping John Barclay for the post because of his Test experience. The network of expert informants could stay as before.
Historically, the chairman of selectors lives or dies by the performances of the team. This is where Ted Dexter was particularly unlucky. One, the England side under his gaze were an overall failure; two, he was not actually chairman of selectors, but got lambasted as if he was. It was ludicrous to blame him when he had such a minor influence in choosing the team. Dexter's official title was chairman of the England Committee. What did it do? Who was in it? The answer to the second is - Dexter, Frank Chamberlain, A C Smith, Ossie Wheatley, Micky Stewart and Keith Fletcher, but as to the first, its remit to develop English cricket at all levels was too vague and so, therefore, was Dexter's role.
Was he supposed to adjudicate selection meetings, watch every county once a month, or take the under-17 squad for coaching sessions? In fact there are qualified people doing this already under the governance of one of the Test and County Cricket Board's 11 committees (including one devoted solely to the appointment of umpires). So in these areas, Dexter was surplus to requirements. That led to general criticism of his job. The TCCB would have been better off using his salary in areas of greater need - injecting more into schools or youth cricket. Our game is suffering from a malaise known as over-delegation. The sooner we cut down on peripheral committees and symbolic chairmen, the better.
When it was initially formed four years ago the England Committee set out to canvass opinion from county captains and umpires when drawing up the national team. In practice this has not really happened, although the principle is good. But the committee itself is superfluous. It would make more sense to give full responsibility for the senior side to the Big Four, as long as they liaise efficiently with the other various departments of the establishment.
This blueprint is not a panacea for the ills of the England team. Our youth system has not unearthed a player of obvious world class since the 1970s and this must be related to the lack of cricket in schools. Therefore the onus on clubs to sustain junior cricket is enormous, and some cannot cope. Ironically, Dexter's West London home overlooks the ground which has a flourishing colts' section but which gets only minimal assistance from the TCCB and therefore depends for its existence on the generosity and patience of a handful of fathers. If some of the TCCB's surplus funds were channelled into sending county professionals into schools and clubs during the winter, it would provide more coherence. Those players would feel they were having a constructive effect on the system that produced them. In time this, like the four- day Championship, would start to regurgitate talent.
In the meantime we must avoid cajoling the hierarchy into making any hasty appointments. There are enough aficianados associated with the domestic game for a small-scale referendum on the role of all our top brass and a rational assessment of the way forward. Having developed an infrastructure involving about 500 people let us at least pause to hear their views.
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