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Hunting for English talent

Kevin Howells | 13:49 UK time, Thursday, 5 May 2011

Every day at a cricket ground near you a dark foreboding presence descends. How do you know of its arrival? A loud cry goes out: "Keep your hands off our players Miller". In fairness it could also be Whittaker.

I refer to Geoff and James, who prowl looking for the right men to lead England onto great things such as winning the Ashes. The third man is Warwickshire director of cricket Ashley Giles.

Forty thousand miles is the rough estimate of the distance the national selector covers trying to get around the right games to look at the right people. It's a skill.

Over recent years the judgements which have most impressed me include Graeme Swann and Tim Bresnan. Both were very good county players, but put an England shirt on them and they have grown. Stats alone wouldn't have told you that.

Not everyone is a fan of two divisions but one fear that players from the lower league would be at a disadvantage in terms of international recognition has not happened.

The skill of the selector is beyond watching, but also to listen and discover if the individual has character and temperament. Those qualities can be found no matter what division you are in. The present selection panel seem to be making a decent job of it.


England and Nottinghamshire off-spinner Graeme Swann

Graeme Swann has become one of the most feared spinners in world cricket after being schooled in the county game

What has stood out for me in recent years is better communication between the national set-up and county coaches. Coaches I've spoken to seem to agree. Geoff Miller talks of attempting a middle ground when it comes, for example, to picking players for the England Lions squads.

Right now they're more than aware that such a game is taking place the same week as a Roses match in Liverpool. If they remove too many of one side and not the other there will be very loud cries of anger. These days I trust them to make the right calls and respect the integrity of the competition.

One notable occasion last year which still angers me was when several players were forbidden from playing for their county teams because they were due to meet the Prime Minister for tea. It made the game a laughing stock and was a shame upon the decision makers. Although that wasn't the selectors of course.

Another example of being inclusive is the work given to some county coaches with national squads. Mick Newell, of Nottinghamshire, spent nine weeks with the England Lions in the Caribbean earlier this year. He found the experience, from the lifestyle change of so much time away from home to learning new coaching tricks, very beneficial.

He told me: "The challenge is do my methods work at that level and is there anything I need to change? They wanted me to try a couple of things where you might sit down at the end of every session and say who won that session and place a tick or a cross. I tried to do it but it wasn't me so, because it wasn't me, I abandoned it after a couple of games. Instead I analyse what has taken place with the captain and work out the way forward from there."

Long team meetings aren't Newell's thing either. Hallelujah say all of us workers to that.

Mick describes his way as relaxed but with very high standards expected of the players, with a very good base of support staff around him. "You trust them to get on with their jobs," he said. From a distance that appears to be the way Andy Flower operates, so in the future perhaps Mick will get more opportunity.

I hope he doesn't mind me adding that I have seen him watching his team play and at times he's anything but relaxed, but I know what he means.

But, in reference to the relationship with the national management, things are going in the right direction.

Whilst writing about selection, why don't we use the post-blog discussion to mention any individual performances you see. You may not want to lose your players to England but it would be a useful exercise and, who knows, the England selectors might take note. The same goes for any unusual or funny moments you come across.

Thank you to the one chief executive who replied to my blog of three weeks ago by sending me a document stating clearly their mission is to be the best cricket club in the world. I look forward to meeting with him soon and telling you more.

Finally, I'm often told I have the best job in the world watching cricket every day all summer long. Well, last week I was begging a CEO to allow me to use a room to work out of which was full of still-to-be-installed urinals. How glamorous it was. Apt for a career going down the pan! I thought I would get that bit in first.


  • Comment number 1.

    As a Somerset fan I'd love to see our rising stars given opportunities with England sides but my fear is are our youngsters up to the job of replacing them.

    Now since England kindly took off our hands Kevin Shine & Mark Garraway, I have a lot more faith in what goes on behind the scenes and think Brian Rose & Andy Hurry, especially after maintaining the Justin Langer mentality of if your good enough your old enough, have everything worked out as the promotion of Jos Buttler last season proved.

  • Comment number 2.

    Progression to the national side does appear to be more considered but the decision to drop Davies for Prior in the WC during the winter did seem very shortmistic.

    While thinking there is too much cricket and not enough quality practice time I do like the idea in the women's game where they get together the best 44-48 players and have a competitive ODI & T20 weekend. It would be competitive and could trial coaches and captains.

  • Comment number 3.

    Buttler (w/k)
    Woakes, (but as batting all rounder)

  • Comment number 4.

    Where is Rashid in the England set up? As a Yorkshire fan i would be sad to see him go (taken 3 wickets already today for only 7 runs), but i would rather see him terrorizing South Africa, Australia etc, than Nottingham and Durham.

  • Comment number 5.

    Totally agree with you josephberwick19921. Rashid needs to be part of the International setup.

  • Comment number 6.

    #4 & 5, I think we will see Rashid be the 2nd spinner in the ODI and Twenty20 team now that Yardy seems to have ended his England career.

    I think the reason for his lack of test match experience is that Swann is clearly our number 1 spinner (1 of the best in the world) and in the majority of countries you only really need 1 spinner - even Aus stuck to 1 spinner when you could argue McGill could have been considered 1 of the top 4/5 bowlers in Aus but was 2nd choice spinner behind Warne.

  • Comment number 7.

    Rashid would have had more of a run out for england if he had been a blue eye blond haired son of a former england player

  • Comment number 8.

    @karlwbrown a bit like Monty Panear? Like Ravi Bopara? Or the South African born Pietersen or Trott? Yeah thats right unless your dad played you have no chance

  • Comment number 9.

    Kevin Howells:

    "What has stood out for me in recent years is better communication between the national set-up and county coaches. Coaches I've spoken to seem to agree. Geoff Miller talks of attempting a middle ground when it comes, for example, to picking players for the England Lions squads."

    I wonder if Paul Collingwood would agree with you on communication being better. If what he says is true about the way his sacking was conducted, then the ECB should be castigated for a complete lack of respect to the man.

  • Comment number 10.

    #9, I think on the whole there is good communication but whether it is to the benefit of the county side in question is up for debate.

    I bring to your attention the case of the wicketkeeper at Somerset. My view is that Buttler is a better keeper but because Kieswetter is on the England scene as a keeper he keeps wicket ahead of Buttler.

  • Comment number 11.


    As a Somerset fan, I'd argue that Kieswetter is currently the better all-rounder with gloves and bat and that allowing Buttler to focus purely on batting will be beneficial for him in the long wrong. I really rate Buttler, he's got something about him with the bat and I'm quite happy for him to focus on that. There's a touch of the Eoin Morgans about Buttler.

  • Comment number 12.

    I'm surprised the Somerset people haven't touted the Irishman George Dockerell.

    And #8 TylerNCCC, Don't forget Eoin Morgan or Ed Joyce on the non-English or Welsh born list

  • Comment number 13.

    @ #12

    That's because Dockerell has yet to play a game at the County Ground (or anywhere for us) and while his name gets bandied about a lot he's yet to actually be tested. He'll also certainly be our no. 2 spinner behind Kartik this season anyway unless he really impresses.

    With player in mind after the last two CB40 games Gregory is certainly a man to keep his eye on. He's impressed greatly and been given the last couple of overs to bowl and kept it nice and tight and I'm certainly looking forward to him bowling at the death with Alfonso Thomas.

    Kieswetter should be in serious contention for ODI's though in 4 CB40 games this season he's averaged 154 consisting of 100, 5, 95*, 105* he also hit 117 in the Championship last week when it was extremely important. His glovework needs improving there's no doubt on that but so did Prior's and there is nothing saying he can't play as a straight up batsman currently.

    To be honest we watch Somerset play and can't quite fathom why half our players don't go away at international time (not that we complain too much). Nobodies mentioned Hildreth either who had a superb season and winter last year. However we're a relatively young side with a wealth of British talent and long may this continue.

  • Comment number 14.


    Dockrell is a huge talent. Like Danny Briggs at Hampshire, both have great composure when bowling and already have good tactical nous. What this means for Max Waller, I'm unsure. I suspect he will go the way of Michael Munday, alas. I'm disappointed that Somerset went for Ajantha Mendis as I don't feel we needed him.

    With Kieswetter I'm of a mind that he could be the next Shane Watson. Watson was damaged by the obsession within Cricket Australia to make him a legit all-rounder. Now they've cut back the bowling, they've actually realised what a high quality batsman he is. You get more out of him treating him as a batsman who can bowl than you do as an all-rounder (not least because he's actually fit now he's not being overworked). With Kieswetter, I wonder if he'd be better served focusing purely on batting and dropping the gloves. Don't forget that a certain Pietersen came over to this country as an off-spinning all-rounder and was batting in the lower ranks in South Africa. By focusing on one talent, he became the batsman we all know and love. Perhaps Kieswetter will be the same and that ultimately England may get more out of him by playing him as a batsman alone. I've said previously that I would love to see an ODI team with Kieswetter and Steven Davies opening, with Davies having the gloves.


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