England have won both Test series this summer. We won in South Africa too. So isn’t it about time we gave the much maligned Ed Smith some credit? Obviously I wasn’t the man to write this. I think his selections have occasionally been inspired (see Crawley, Zak) but mostly dimwitted (see Roy, Jennings, Denly). I also think his initial philosophy of picking white ball players (because they’ve done it in front of big IPL crowds) was daft as a brush and always bound to fail. England have actually improved since Smith’s done a complete U-turn and started picking specialists like Dom Sibley – something his critics begged him to do from the start.
However, you can’t argue with series results. And other than our defeat in New Zealand, plus our failure to win the Ashes at home for the first time since 2005, the teams selected by Smith have been pretty successful. So let’s give the man some credit. Michael Hall puts the case for Ed Smith’s defence below …
Ed Smith has in my view been an excellent national selector who has added to the expertise and leadership of England’s men’s cricket team. There I have said it. For anyone who has followed “The Full Toss Blog” for any period of time they will have noticed that James, el supremo of the blog, is probably not Ed Smith’s biggest fan.
For a selector Ed Smith attracts lots of attention particularly on Twitter where I have to admit that I follow and enjoy the parody account “Ed Smith – Maverick Genius”. The portrayal of Ed as an evil genius who is the intellectually arrogant and snobbish is very funny. It is generally gentle humour. The fun poked at Ed over his outfits, articles and sunglasses requires you to be a regular follower but like all parody seems to have an element of truth. George Dobell of Cricinfo and Elizabeth Ammon of The Times (“Legside Lizzy” on Twitter) also add to the general fun of this thesis.
As a writer I always enjoyed Ed Smith’s articles and his book “Playing Hard Ball: County Cricket and Big League Baseball” was excellent although I admit to being in that very small minority that enjoys and follows both County Cricket and Major League Baseball. Sometimes his articles in The Times and New Statesman could be obscure and take a few readings but he always seemed to be looking for a new angle – the Billy Beane of Cricket. Watch the excellent film Moneyball if you do not know who Billy Beane is.
Now all I actually know about Ed are the articles I have read and his commentary on TMS plus some podcasts. Since his appointment as a selector like everyone else I follow his selections with interest because we all think we would be brilliant at selecting the England cricket team. We all have a view.
Smith was appointed in April 2018 taking over from James Whitaker. The framework in which decisions are made and teams selected was implemented by Andrew Strauss from when he was Director of English Cricket. The framework with coach and captains adding to the selection of teams on the day of games seems to me to have been quite successful. The white ball teams regularly play very well and we did win the World Cup. I believe most of the credit for that goes to the coach and captain. The Test team results have been more mixed but in my view selection policy has improved in the followings ways:
1. Consistency. Players selected are given a proper chance to earn their place and are not discarded after two matches as they were constantly in the bad days of the 1980’s and 1990’s when we were often the joke team of world cricket. This is often an area where criticism is most severe (Buttler and Denly the recent targets) but I think it has helped the players selected gain confidence they will be given a fair chance and as a result we see confidence and performance improving.
2. He looks for players across a wide spectrum and will give those who have succeeded in one form at international level a chance in other areas whilst still bringing in the best, in whatever form, from domestic tournaments.
This second area has been a challenge for me. I am primarily a fan of Test Matches and the County Championship so I do not follow the white ball game as closely. Unfortunately the Championship has been marginalised in the last ten years, which is not Ed Smith’s fault. Therefore I have reluctantly come to the view that we cannot rely on that tournament alone for building our Test team. If you can get over this then it is logical that we should use white ball cricket as one source of potential players. Ben Stokes is the obvious outstanding achievement here but I accept there have been failures too. There always will be but again we cannot blame Ed Smith for that.
Smith does generally introduce interesting selections and some “wild cards” but on the whole I would say we have better teams now, incredible depth in seam bowling and promise in batting. I am not sure Ollie Pope would have been given his chance like he has under previous regimes. Ben Foakes will get his chance again at wicket keeper.
That is my case. Time to give the National Selector a pass and give him a chance. Now it is your chance to come back at me in comments below.