The England selectors have come in for some heavy criticism recently. Are they casting their net wide enough?
Closed shop, private club, old boy’s network. These common descriptions of the current England squad reveal a widespread belief that the national selectors are conservative in their choices and unfairly biased towards players established in the ‘Team England bubble’.
On being elevated to chief selector Geoff Miller stamped his authority but also maintained continuity, evidenced by the axing of Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison and the subsequent retention of the same Test team for six matches.
Suggestions that the first choice eleven were too comfortable in their places were not addressed by the dropping of the out-of-form Paul Collingwood or Ian Bell, but rather by the inclusion of Darren Pattinson for the Headingley Test.
This decision was merely a clumsy attempt to show that any productive county player could earn a chance at national level and the selectors have since returned to a policy of blind loyalty, or continuity as they prefer to call it.
Giving players a fair chance to adapt to Test cricket is the correct policy – during the darkest days of English cricket in the 1990’s virtually any player was two bad performances away from being dropped – but the selectors must maintain impartiality.
This does not just apply to selectors’ own picks or county affiliations (and we will never know whether Tim Ambrose’s continued involvement after a horror summer is due to favourable treatment by Peter Moores or Ashley Giles, or perhaps both), but also towards the divisional structure.
The selectors rightly place more significance on performances in the top flight, otherwise there is little point in having split divisions and an apparent difference in quality. However, it could be said that it is too hard for second division players to earn international recognition.
The fact that Warwickshire and Worcestershire bounced straight back to division one after suffering relegation in 2007 suggests there is a gulf in class, although the Surrey vintage of 2008 would surely have struggled in division two.
Selectorial discussions must include phrases such as ‘he scored his runs in division one’, suggesting division two players must score and take a certain amount more of runs and wickets. Such a figure is hard to pinpoint, so selectors are more inclined to go for players from top flight counties.
13 of next year’s 19 central contracts belong to players from division one counties in 2008 and both of the most recent additions to the national squad (Ambrose and Samit Patel) ply their trade in the top flight.
There is something not quite right in the selectors’ dynamic. How can Ravi Bopara go from 12th man for the Oval Test against South Africa to out of a 15 man touring squad? He heavily outscored Owais Shah in division two this season and it is a myth that the latter is in irresistible One Day form (three half centuries in 17 knocks since his breakthrough ton last summer).
Similarly, do the selectors really see a Twenty20 future for Alastair Cook and deserving of a Stanford place? The belief persists that the selectors have their favourites and are failing to reward good domestic displays, especially in division two.
Written by Philip Oliver, a sports writer who blogs about cricket betting.