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.