It was somewhat of a surprise when Ed Smith was named by Andrew Strauss, his former Middlesex teammate, to head the England selection panel in April 2018. At the time, Smith was a journalist and commentator on Test Match Special.
He had no real day-to-day involvement in the English game. But Strauss actually saw it as an advantage. “Ed will come to this position with new ideas and his input will help us put in place a structure which we hope can become a world leader, not only in cricket but in sport in general,” Strauss told the time of appointment.
In many ways, Smith turned the selection upside down. Under his leadership, the process placed much more emphasis on data and analytics, including the use of ideas such as weighted averages, with Mo Bobat, the current chief performance officer, becoming a key influence. A network of scouts was set up to ensure that county cricket was sufficiently covered and to ensure that many different scouts saw potential English players in action, providing a more comprehensive view of character and abilities. Sports medical and scientific information has also been introduced.
All of this constituted a much larger bank of knowledge and information than any English selection board had ever had before. Ironically, it was partly because of this setup that Smith lost his job. The ECB referred to the information “resource” that is now available to Chris Silverwood as he assumes his new selection responsibilities. Smith was instrumental in building this resource.
How do you measure Smith’s three years as a national selector? The first thing to say is that a selector or a selection panel does not stand in isolation. Choosing the right players is clearly a fundamental part of any successful cricket business, but so are good training, smart tactics, and cricketers able to handle the pressure of the international game. This last piece isn’t really known until a player steps into the heat of the moment. After all, selectors don’t go out and beat or bowl. The point here is that it is too simplistic to judge Smith’s tenure solely by results and performance.
Even if this was not the case, by this measure, Smith was involved in a fair amount of success during his time at the ECB. England won the World Cup in 2019, although the team were largely in place before they took office, and there has been a marked improvement in the cricket test over the past 18 months – despite the recent disappointing performance in India – which included away wins in South Africa and Sri Lanka. Under his leadership, England won 21 of the 37 tests.
The role played by selection in these successes is difficult to quantify. Obviously that played a role. But Eoin Morgan and Trevor Bayliss have been the key players to the World Cup victory while Silverwood has implemented a clear game plan in the tests since taking office as head coach, which has paid dividends. . Under Bayliss, England’s strategy in the cricket test was often confused and selection played its part. Remember Jason Roy’s opening at Ashes 2019?
But how well did Smith give Bayliss the players he wanted for the brand of cricket he wanted to play? Probably a bit of both. But at the end of the day, it’s the coach and captain who are responsible for the team’s play. Breeders must give them the tools for the job.
There have been individual successes and failures along the way. Smith’s constant support of Jos Buttler as a test cricketer ultimately turned out to be the right choice. While it hasn’t been easy since Smith called him back to the Test side in 2018 following a strong IPL campaign, Buttler’s recent form has been excellent and he is now the premier wicket keeper. in all formats. There was a ripple effect, of course. Jonny Bairstow was moved to such an extent that his Testing career was affected.
Smith was generally not afraid to choose young players and a number, including Ollie Pope, Sam Curran, Zak Crawley and Dan Lawrence, were bloodied under his watch. All four look set for a long career in England, while Dom Bess, whom England has shown a lot of confidence in over the past year, could return as well. There is certainly greater depth in the squad now than at any time in the recent past, although this is in part due to COVID and the need to expand the pool of players present in bio-bubbles. secure.
The biggest failure of Smith’s tenure was in the management of Moeen Ali, who was harshly abandoned after the 2019 Ashes Series opener when he was the main wicket-taker in the tests during the 12 previous months. This prompted Moeen to take a break from the cricket test and seemed to hit his confidence and motivation. He has rarely been at his best for England since then in any format and, despite 189 wickets under his belt, has only played one test in the past 18 months.
There have been other missteps, such as choosing Roy to open this Ashes series. The Pope was selected as number four against India in 2018 when he had never beaten so high for his county – he was dropped after just two matches which luckily didn’t seriously affect him – so that there was criticism for persisting with Joe Denly for as long as England did, both in the test and in limited cricket.
Then there was the rotation policy this winter. While there was clearly to be some form of rotation, the selection panel was criticized for the decision to put part of England’s first-choice test team to rest in the Indian Series. Other options were available, including rests for the two tests in Sri Lanka or the limited series against India, which England ultimately lost with a squad full of strength.
Overall, the panel chaired by Smith did not do everything right, clearly. But there were also a lot of good things that happened under his watch. After three years in the job, the end result is a balanced scorecard. Most selectors would accept this. It is a difficult job to do well. And Smith made a decent fist out of it.