Oborne & Heller on Cricket

A select offering from Ed Smith

November 15, 2022 Peter Oborne, Richard Heller, Ed Smith Season 1 Episode 105
Oborne & Heller on Cricket
A select offering from Ed Smith
Show Notes

Ed Smith played cricket for Kent, Middlesex (as captain) and England, was an incisive commentator on Test Match Special and was England’s Chief Selector from 2018 to 2021. In that role, he drew on learning from many different fields as well as those of cricket, as he reveals in his recent polymathic book, Making Decisions. He is the latest guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their cricket-themed podcast. 

Ed begins by describing his childhood training for the post of Chief Selector, in role play in the classic game of Owzat. He suggests that selecting is simultaneously highly complex and highly democratic: all cricket-lovers have views, if not votes, and never hesitate to express them. Social media have opened up new and often unusual perspectives on selection and strategy.

Current form and a past record in county cricket were once the sole basis of selection of England’s international players, but he and his panel looked at other factors as well. He suggests that the gulf in playing standards has widened between county and international cricket. The dramatic and successful selection of Jofra Archer for the 2019 World Cup was based on IPL evidence.  IPL games are not only highly competitive but rich in detailed televised data.

He cites some players who made inauspicious starts in international cricket but whose evident quality demanded their retention, especially Jos Buttler in England’s one-day cricket. Selectors face a constant dilemma of when to over-ride data and rely on their personal assessments of players, as Duncan Fletcher had done with Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan. Decision-makers who always play safe and follow conventional wisdom never add value to the decision process – and not only in cricket. Although cricket has no transfer market, like football and other sports, it is still imperative for selectors to find undervalued players (by reputation) and offload overvalued ones.

He cites the guidance of the conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott on how to choose among the runners in the Derby and other classic horse races: “there are no precise rules for selecting the winner and some intelligence not supplied by the rules themselves is necessary.” Scientific systems can filter out obvious losers, but human judgement is needed to identify the attributes of a winner.  Sam Curran would never have been selected by scientific algorithm: he was picked after a human assessment of his personality and his ability to add variety and enhance team performance.

He argues strongly that selection must always aim to create the best possible team from the resources available for the contests ahead. The team’s needs will sometimes entail omitting a fine individual player and giving a long run to players whose figures appear unexceptional: he gives three examples of this by his panel. In T20 cricket it is especially important to get the maximum value from the best batter in a limited span of overs and to surround him or her with the players that contribute the most to achieving this. A strong team culture will overcome the disappointment of the individuals passed over for particular matches and remove their fear of being discarded and forgotten.

Read the full description here: https://chiswickcalendar.co.uk/episode-105-a-select-offering-from-ed-smith/

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