The Art of Selection

It’s a hard and mostly thankless job. Do it perfectly and the team wins, nobody even notices. When was the last time you heard a convenor or his panel being praised for contributing to the team’s win?

Even if you do it well and the team loses, they will usually take more than their fair share of criticism for the loss. But when you do it controversially and the team loses, then it’s usually time to start looking around for alternative employment.

There are many ways of looking at the job but for simplicity’s sake, let’s divide it into two: proactive and reactive selection.

Reactive is traditionally the South African way. You start with the incumbent XI and then wait for problems to develop and then come up with solutions to fix them. It works on the basis of loyalty and the belief that every player has the right to fail from time to time but it’s only after an extended period of failure, injury or an obvious technical problem that you replace him.

Proactive selection is much harder and takes courage. It is far less popular with the players and can create a ‘them and us’ atmosphere, which nobody enjoys. But it can also produce dramatic results and lead to far more games being won if done bravely and honestly.

The players who did well for South Africa over six months ago did so in a 50-over World Cup on the subcontinent. But now it’s mid October in Cape Town and a green, seaming pitch with overcast skies. And South Africa played two spinners… peculiar.

Only fools still believe that Graeme Smith isn’t one of the greatest cricketers this country has ever produced, but he has played two days of club cricket in six months. Not first-class, not even competitive league cricket, but an early season middle practise with Claremont Cricket Club. I do not believe that any other country in the world would select a player still recovering from knee surgery for an international match (of any sort) based on two glorified net sessions after six months out of action. Even a man of Smith’s reputation.

The Cobras started a four-day match against the Warriors in East London on the same day Smith was looking so awfully rusty against Australia at Newlands. Why did he not play the first-class match? Maybe, just maybe, the decision could have been merited if he was still captain, but there were at least half a dozen men in form who would have been better bets to open with Hashim Amla – including Richard Levi who carried drinks.

If “you’re dropped” is too hard, then perhaps Andrew Hudson and his panel might try “you’ve done nothing wrong and you’re still a part of the big picture, but the course has changed and we’re going with different horses this time.”

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