It was a completely unexpected surprise to be asked by the ICC to be on the voting panel for the 2009 Awards but, I have to admit, quite an honour and one which I was more than happy to accept.
Sadly, that honour has now become more of an embarrassment. South Africa is the number one ranked team in both forms of the game, became the first team to win a Test series in Australia for 16 years, beat Australia in back-to-back ODI series and, for good measure, beat England on their turf, too.
And there isn’t a single South African player nominated.
Through absolutely nobody’s fault at the ICC, the system used for determining the award winners is flawed and I’ll attempt to explain why. First, however, let me explain exactly how it works.
An elite five-man selection panel slects a ‘longlist’ of nominations in all categories. It is chaired by the great Clive Lloyd and comprises Anil Kumble, Mudassar Nazar, Bob Taylor and Stephen Fleming. Nothing wrong with that. Infact, it’s an extremely impressive cast.
Once they have drawn up their list, it is circulated to the voting panel of 25 comprising 11 former international players, 11 members of the media and three others – Lloyd, Alan Hurst and Billy Bowden. Once in possession of the ballot papers, we were required to vote for our first, second and third choices in each category.
Those votes are then counted up and a ‘shortlist’ of four names is made public with the winner, obviously, kept secret until the official announcement at the gala banquet in Johannesburg before the Champions Trophy final.
Even the greatest skeptics would have to agree that a lot of thought has gone into the system. But there is one fatal flaw and it has now been exposed. It is simply too hard to do the research and to put in the required time to make considered and balanced judgements.
The problem starts with the long list drawn up by the five man selection panel. In future they must be restricted to five or six names. By putting 12 or 14 names forward they are simply obfuscating the issue and making it nigh on impossible to give equal and fair consideration to all the nominees.
I am one of the least prominent members of the voting panel and, because I work as a full-time journalist, have more time than most others to find the statistical evidence for each player, sift through it and then apply a dose of personal opinion. And to be quite honest, I find the task impossible. So I called upon my great friend and statistics guru, the incomparable Andrew Samson, official statistician of CSA and respected cricket wizzard worldwide.
Between us I reckon it took four days before I could mark my ballot papers with a clear conscience and safe in the belief that I had done justice to the process.
So, with no supermarkets to open or speeches to make, no autographs to sign or committees to sit on, I was the most likely to have the time to get the job done thoroughly. But I needed four days and the help of a genius.
What chance is there for the likes of Ian Healy, Allan Donald, Ian Bishop, Ramiz Raja or Jeremy Coney? Ask them to choose between Andrew Strauss and Graeme Smith, sure, but they are simply too busy to select from 14 names!
There were plenty of Proteas players on the ‘longlists’ but, I’m afraid, having not played for three months, I suspect it was simply a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
Finally, although votes are supposed to be strictly confidential, I feel duty-bound to confirm that I voted for Smith in the ‘Test player of the year’ category and AB de Villiers in the ‘Cricketer of the year’ category!
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to get in touch.