See You Jimmy

It’s official. James Whitaker, England’s national selector (or ‘chairman of selectors’ in old money), is leaving his post. Andrew Strauss wants to overhaul the selection structure and our Jimmy, known by many as the man with the mobile, is the first person to get his marching orders / mutually part ways with his esteemed employers.

Although Andrew Strauss was keen to thank Whitaker for all his hard work, and insisted that this decision was not based on results, one has to wonder whether the reforms might have been delayed or mitigated had England performed slightly better than pathetically during the Ashes. Selection was controversial to say the least, and at times Whitaker’s strategy has appeared entirely random and based on hope more than expectation.

There’s a lot to be said for the ‘throw enough shit at the wall and hope some of it sticks’ approach. I use it myself when I’m thinking of headlines. However, I wouldn’t really recommend it as a modus operandi for picking international sports teams. Instead it’s generally better to know what one’s looking for and then identify players with the required qualities. I’m not sure what qualities Whitaker believed Gary Ballance (thrice) and James Vince (twice) possessed.

Overall I doubt many will be too disappointed with Whitaker’s departure. He seems pretty harmless, but also pretty ineffectual. He never really articulated any kind of vision for the England team, or described what he looks for in players, which is possibly why he failed to unearth replacements for the likes of Trott, Bell, Pietersen, Swann, and even his current boss Andrew Strauss.

Although Dawid Malan looks like he might nail down a middle-order spot for the foreseeable future, one has to ask why he’s only got his chance now, at the age of 30, when he’s been around the squad for almost a decade. Furthermore, although one might cite Moeen Ali as a success, it’s worth noting that Mo has always divided opinion and his future as a test player is somewhat uncertain after a sequence of abysmal performances abroad.

Perhaps the biggest selection successes of the last few years have been Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes, but it’s worth remembering that both these players actually made their debuts when Geoff Miller was still the man in charge – although Whitaker was part of the panel that chose them. Consequently, I will always regard his tenure as something of a failure. After all, the team has exactly the same problems now as it had when he took over: no opening partner for Cook, holes in the middle-order, and no decent spinner.

In Whitaker’s defence, one could argue that England simply haven’t had the talent pool to replace the stalwarts of five years ago. What’s more, Whitaker has overseen an improvement in our ODI fortunes … even if he must take some of the blame for the shambolic world cup performance that preceded this upturn. I guess some will blame him for everything that’s gone wrong, but then attribute England’s successes to a more dynamic figure like Trevor Bayliss, the captain Eoin Morgan, or even Paul Farbrace. That’s the nature of the beast when dynamism isn’t your exactly your forte.

Having said that, I’m sure Whitaker’s contribution will be greatly appreciated within the ECB itself. He seems like a good team man and a safe pair of hands … even if it’s been hard for the average supporter to identify with him.

It will be interesting to see who Strauss appoints as the new National Selector. One hopes it will be someone independent with a high cricketing IQ. Unfortunately, however, most of these people are already employed in the media … which means I doubt the ECB will consider them. One hopes that Andy Flower won’t emerge as the sole candidate (which I can see happening).

When it comes to the new structure Strauss wants to implement, apparently future squads will be chosen by a ‘National Selector’, a full-time independent ‘England Selector’, plus the coach Trevor Bayliss. I’m a little curious as to what Bayliss will be able to offer in the role as he doesn’t have time to watch much county cricket, plus he’s leaving the job after the World Cup.

The most interesting reform is that Strauss wants his new 3-man team to be supported by a network of discipline specific scouts. In other words, we’ll have separate scouts for test, ODIs, and T20s. The national lead coaches will also have a voice. This structure is definitely an improvement from the old system whereby Gus Fraser and Mick Newell had a lot of say but little freedom to watch the games that mattered. As employees of Middlesex and Notts respectively, they were often restricted to watching games involving their counties.

Talking of Mick and Gus, one wonders what will become of them? I think the answer is pretty obvious to be honest. Although Strauss has invited them to apply for the role of ‘England Selector’, he’s also stressed that this should be an independent selector. Consequently, they’ve got about as much chance of landing the role as I have of sleeping with Scarlett Johanssen … unless they decide to cut ties with their counties of course.

James Morgan

2018-03-12T17:59:14+00:00March 12th, 2018|Talking Points|19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Andy Cheese March 12, 2018 at 5:11 pm - Reply

    Geat rid of Strauss also. Bring in Beefy to shake things up !

    • James Morgan March 13, 2018 at 11:33 am - Reply

      Beefy is a bit emotional for my taste! I’d prefer someone more studious 🙂

  2. JackieL March 12, 2018 at 5:30 pm - Reply

    Surely Bayliss can’t be described as dynamic? While Strauss is in charge the old clique will be unchallenged. Whitaker was always a yes man.

    Strauss depends on Flower too much. The Lions aren’t doing too well either. Vince was backed by Flower. The lack of really class players in Test cricket is partly due to the arrogance of the two Andy’s. They thought that replacements were only there to be favoured. KP and Bell were undervalued and under appreciated under their regime. But how thin the Test side looks now. The much vaunted youth have failed to register their credentials. Selection is not the main reason. Test players need to be identified as individuals not whether they will conform to this brand or not or this County or not, or our mindset or not.

    • James Morgan March 12, 2018 at 6:01 pm - Reply

      Yes Bayliss is too relaxed to be called ‘dynamic’. What I was trying to say is that he’s a sexier name who gets more press.

  3. Doug M March 12, 2018 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    Well it’s s start. Now follow with Strauss, Bayliss, Flower and restructure the current ECB board and we might be getting somewhere.
    Not sure about scouts unless they know what they are looking at, like county cricket. They’d be better off rearranging the schedule, much discussed here, and better developing potential test players.

  4. Doug March 12, 2018 at 6:27 pm - Reply

    England need someone who has the balls to replace Cook, Vince, Ali, Anderson and Broad, to have a 18 month plan to bed the new era in.
    One of the two Mike’s could be worth a shout – Brierley or Atherton. Mark Waugh seems to handle the dual roles of commentator and selector without too much trouble, so Atherton shouldn’t be ruled out.
    Having said that, who would want the job when the players you select turn around and say they are white ball boys now. The ECB had better get this sorted out pretty fast otherwise there will be a shrinking pool of players wanting to play the red ball.
    I wonder where Strauss’s so called “scouts” are going to go, perhaps to South Africa and grab a few 16 year olds who had a grandmother/father that live here once. Has Rabada got a little brother?

  5. Marc Evans March 12, 2018 at 7:01 pm - Reply

    What an opportunity to get Brearley back into the fold. Has there been a better man manager in the game? He clearly has greater intelligence to make informed decisions than any of the other candidates. What a waste it has been leaving him out In the cold for so long. The only question is has he the desire to commit himself to such a pressured position at his age and would he be prepared to operate in a committee structure with lesser intellects.
    Not sure about bringing the likes of Beefy and Willis in, but Brearley always seemed able to get on with strong personalities without confrontation and they seemed to respect his judgement.

    • James Morgan March 13, 2018 at 11:35 am - Reply

      I agree re: Brearley but fear he wouldn’t be available or interested. Think he has a successful career as a psychologist / psychoanalyst and author. Also not sure whether he’s still in touch with the modern game. I could be completely wrong though.

  6. Metatone March 12, 2018 at 7:19 pm - Reply

    I think what the coach adds (whether or not he’s up on county cricket) is information about current players and the strengths/weaknesses of the current team, alongside what strategies he’s planning to use. Of course, this applies most obviously to wicketkeeper, allrounders and bowlers, but I think there’s something to it for batting strategy too.

    As for Whitaker, it’s hard to judge b/c we don’t really know if he’s had a free hand.
    It doesn’t really look like it, in a lot of ways. You get the overtone of Strauss/Flower in the background.
    Also, some squad selections were wasted by the coach/captain along the way.

    Of course, if he’s had a free hand, then it’s hard to feel that he shouldn’t have been sacked earlier…

  7. Nick March 12, 2018 at 10:26 pm - Reply

    The whole selection process is shrouded in mystery, we know who sits in the room and that not all the people in the room have a ‘vote’ but not much more than that. As National selector how much more valuable was James Whitaker ‘vote’ than others in the room?

    Few selections for the Test team have come off especially in the batting. That isn’t all the selectors fault, players with some of the better domestic records haven’t taken their chance(s). Should they have given some payers longer? Say Lyth, Its a tough ask for a debutant to play NZ in May and Australia on pitches they were making 60 all out on but what has he done since, nothing. Should they have erred from the 7 Test policy like Vince against Pakistan was mentally gone by the end. Pakistan in the same series dropped Masood and this replacement scored 91 on debut.

    A more obvious criticism is with spin, that they brought in a short term fix in 2014 as a way of playing an extra batsmen and they are still doing it. They also select that spinner in all three formats so he is playing so much he doesn’t have time away to grow.

    The only debate that seems to have ended from 2014 is the keeper, Bairstow has proved them right

    • SimonH March 13, 2018 at 10:14 am - Reply

      “Should they have erred from the 7 Test policy like Vince against Pakistan”.

      The trouble was they’d just let Cook go 14 Tests without making a score over 72. Dropping more junior batsmen more quickly would look like rank double standards. Of course there’s always the solution of not caring how you look which is always possible with the ECB..

      “The only debate that seems to have ended from 2014 is the keeper, Bairstow has proved them right”.

      I wouldn’t say the argument that Bairstow would be best used as a specialist batsman at No.5 has been disproved at all. He’s only made one century in the last six series and his batting average is now below 40 – and not because of any problems with him but because he keeps getting stranded with the tail (especially against stronger bowling attacks).

      By the way, the Guardian thread on this has just crawled over 50 comments after being up for 16 hours. The game and the newspaper are both dying on their feet (richly deserved in the case of the latter – anyone who can’t seen what that paper has become and maintains a presence over there must be sleep-walking).

      • James Morgan March 13, 2018 at 11:36 am - Reply

        Have to admit that I’ve never really participated in the BTL comments on the Guardian. What’s up with the paper? As you can probably guess I’m not an avid reader.

        • Nick March 13, 2018 at 6:56 pm - Reply

          I wasn’t providing answers on the number of Tests a player should be given without obvious success. Without wanting to go back to the days of two bad innings and on the scrapheap, I’m not sure the seven test model is suiting England better.

          The speed at which England play Test matches adds to this, someone like Tom Westley has waited their whole life for this chance and then its all over in 6/7 weeks with is reputation in taters.

          Bairstow doesn’t have a great record at five even since his 2015 return Averaging 31, from six or below he averages 49. Most of the people pushing this specialist agenda are desperate to shoe horn Foakes or Buttler into the side. Personally I would bat bat Bairstow at 6 as keeper and have Stokes at five

  8. Growltiger March 13, 2018 at 8:14 am - Reply

    The question that never seems to have been settled is whether the National Selector is supposed to be a scout or a strategist. If the latter, there is (to say the least) not much evidence that Whittaker was up to it. If the former, he seems to have lacked discrimination and picked pretty nearly everything that moves. If there is going to be a network of scouts (and decent analytical video support) the emphasis ought to be on the strategy aspect, with the successful candidate having the capacity to do some hard thinking about what attributes the selectable players must have, and how to get them to a point where putting them in the team doesn’t lead to instant exposure of technical or temperamental failings. And, please, let us have done with Vince.

  9. Joe March 13, 2018 at 11:23 am - Reply

    By ‘ discipline specific’ I thought it would mean seam bowlers, spinners, opening bats etc?

    • James Morgan March 13, 2018 at 11:38 am - Reply

      You might be right, Joe. I might have misread the article on Cricinfo as it immediately starts talking about red ball / white ball cricket below the bit about disciplines. Who knows?!

  10. Comte March 13, 2018 at 3:29 pm - Reply

    I’m not sure how much blame for some of the England’s set-up problems can be laid at Whitaker’s door. I thought he was continuing to operate in a similar manner to Miller’s and I saw him round and about on the county circuit just as often as the latter. No doubt a great deal of consultation goes on but when it comes to the crunch whose opinion really counts? County coaches will push their own guys, umpires can have their favourites and TV pundits stick to old allegiances. Nobody likes to admitting to being wrong and I guess we can all think of some poor and dubious picks whose techniques and/or mental strengths were not good enough for international cricket.But some of those picks are retained for way too long.
    I would discount Brearley because I can’t imagine why he’d want to be involved. Botham? Absolutely not. I doubt if he’s had an original thought in 20 years. Willis? I wouldn’t want Mr Negative near any players. Rob Key has only recently given up playing, seems fairly level-headed and strong-willed when necessary.
    Flower – probably less damaging as a selector than a coach but I don’t want to see him anywhere near the England organisation.

  11. Max Sawyer March 15, 2018 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    I may have posted this before (or something similar), but never mind. Sack the selectors and all the “backroom boys” (including specialist coaches), scrap central contracts, use some of the money saved to recruit a team of no-nonsense selectors who are not tainted by “managerialism”, are unafraid to rock the boat and have no time for favourites and return to the old system of selecting in-form players from the county game.

  12. Cricket-Now March 15, 2018 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    doesn’t really make much of a difference

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