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So Ed Smith has lost one of his many slashes. His potted CV now reads author/broadcaster/academic/Test cricketer, but not national selector. He still has more of the things than Fabio Lanzoni did when they gave him the Slashie award for being the best actor/model in the Zoolander movie.
England haven’t just moved on from Smith, but the whole role of head selector, which has been scrapped and the job passed on to the head coach, Chris Silverwood, and his two captains, Joe Root and Eoin Morgan. It seems a simpler way of doing things, but will no doubt turn out to have its own complications the next time England lose the Ashes.
As for Smith (who has accomplished so much that he can stand a little teasing) he will at least have the free time for all those other pursuits, and will also be consoled by the fact that England are keeping so much of the scouting and selection system he helped build in the past three years.
Unfortunately for him, the setup now seems to work so well that they believe it will carry on functioning just fine without him. Smith’s deputy, James Taylor, has been promoted to head scout, and Mo Bobat, who was appointed in 2019, will continue as performance director. Only now they’ll be reporting back to Silverwood.
Smith’s three-year stretch as national selector included England’s World Cup win in 2019, although the squad was already settled in the large part. There was still the one, key late decision about whether or not to bring in Jofra Archer instead of David Willey. Which seems an obvious call now, given Archer’s talents, and perhaps it was then too, but it’s worth remembering how controversial it was, all those worries, and warnings about what it would do to team morale. Otherwise, it was just a matter of quibbling over whether Joe Denly or Liam Dawson should take the 15th and last place in the squad, and Smith lost out to Morgan on that one, Dawson getting the nod.
There’s more to pick over with the Test team, where there were series victories at home to India, West Indies, and Pakistan and away to South Africa and Sri Lanka, as well as a draw in the Ashes in 2019. Which is a fair record, balanced by series defeats away to India, West Indies and New Zealand.
Back in May 2018, Smith’s first squad included Jos Buttler, who had not played a Test in 18 months, or a single first-class match that season, and Dom Bess, who had only played 16 first-class games. They were bold decisions. England have stuck by both in the years since, and been rewarded for it (despite Bess’s recent struggles).
There’s no doubt Smith has a knack for spotting talent, and that the decisions he made will shape the England team for the best part of the next decade. He also called up Sam Curran and Ollie Pope (who, it’s true, was bizarrely miscast as a reserve wicketkeeper on tour to New Zealand) later that summer, and Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley and Dan Lawrence in the years since.
Altogether, 12 men made their Test debuts during Smith’s time. Only one, Jason Roy, who spent a long, sorry summer trying to open the batting, ended up an out-and-out failure. And that decision at least had a certain (flawed) logic to it.
Otherwise you might argue he was a little too generous to Denly, but then he seemed to prefer to give players too many matches rather than too few, a policy informed, perhaps, by the way his own Test career was sawn off after only three caps. In the year before Smith took over Tom Westley, Ben Duckett and Haseeb Hameed came and went without winning as many as Denly’s 15 caps between the three of them.
Where Smith did seem to struggle was in managing his relationships with some of the senior players. Stuart Broad, dropped for a Test against West Indies at Bridgetown in 2019, and another at Southampton last year, struggled to hide his own feelings about the way he was being treated.
Likewise Jonny Bairstow, who had the wicketkeeper’s job taken away from him and was then told he needed to reinvent himself as a top-order batsman if he wanted to hold on to his place in the team. Moeen Ali was quieter, but, you guess, felt pretty aggrieved about the way he was handled too, as he was shunted up and down the order and in and out of the squad.
It all started to unravel this winter (Smith’s parting comment that he was leaving the job “at such a high point for English cricket” was hard to square with the Test series we all just watched unfold in India), when a selection policy that looked sensible on paper began to malfunction in practice, and led to a slightly baffling category system of Rumsfeldian complexity, with some players dropped, others rested, others rotated. Smith shouldn’t shoulder all the blame for that. His boss, Ashley Giles, agreed to it.
Besides, it was all well-intentioned, meant to protect the players’ mental health, and it may yet pay off as they slog through the busy schedule ahead in the coming months. After all, selection is one of those jobs that it’s easy to imagine you can do when you don’t actually have to.