Why We Need a Separate Test Selection Panel


On Monday Australia collapsed to an ignominious defeat to a shorthanded Pakistani team. On Tuesday, in a post that was only half-sarcastic we told you that monkeys could do a better job than the selectors. Today we have a more constructive idea as to how we can get better selectors – by having a separate selectors for test cricket.

You may have noticed we’re not massive fans of the Australian selectors here. When not seeking a bloodless marmoset-based coup of their power, we have also criticised them for ignoring any semblance of first class performance and instead focusing on the ‘hunch’ that someone ‘looks’ like a test cricketer. This has led to an inconsistent and short-term approach to selecting, creating a team where players are in and out of the side without apparent reason. Of the 34 debutants picked for Australia since 1 January 2010, only four(Warner, Smith,Pattinson and Harris) would definitely make a best XI picked tomorrow.

Selection is clearly not driven by first class performance. If this was the case, Alex Doolan (first class average: 37), Rob Quiney (first class average: 37) and Shaun Marsh (first class average: 36) would never have been considered for Australia A, let alone the test team. If Shield runs mattered, Phil Hughes’ 26 hundreds by the age of 25 would have brought him back to the test team, rather than being considered inferior to Glenn Maxwell (4 first class hundreds – and he’s about a year older than Hughes). If selectors were focused on first class performance would Steve O’Keefe (first class average 26) have required four years as the premier spinner in Shield cricket before getting a test call-up? Would James Faulkner, who averages 31 with the bat and less than 24 with the ball have fallen behind Marsh (29 and 28) and Maxwell (40 and 39) in the oft-required filling in for injured Shane Watson position?

It is clear that performance in Sheffield Shield is not rewarded – which is really quite odd. Given that first class cricket is the only measure we have for how a cricketer will handle long-form cricket, it seems a pertinent piece of information to any discussion. It is possible that occasionally a talent will thrust itself forward prior to first class performance – for example Michael Clarke averaged under 40 when he was picked to play test cricket at 21. Nathan Lyon, Shane Warne and Ian Healy all had limited first class cricket before being picked for test cricket. However, these are outliers. But instead of treating them as such, our selectors have decided to ignore first class performance altogether.

What is being rewarded? Performance in any international cricket; be it Twenty20 or One Day Internationals. George Bailey got picked to bat at six for last year’s ashes on the back of dominating a weak Indian attack on flat decks in the subcontinent. Glenn Maxwell and Mitch Marsh have both played against Pakistan in the large part because of their performances in the ODI and Twenty20 sides – the latter against Zimbabwe which shows just how much of a hunch it is even if it does look like paying off. Shaun Marsh basically made his name as an ODI opener before inexplicably making his way into the test team.

Why is this? The Mere Exposure Effect – basically the Australian selectors spend so much time watching endless ODI and Twenty20 games they end up focusing on the players’ form in those forms of the game.

When it comes to performance it seems the selectors are unable to differentiate between the three forms of cricket. Instead they are focused on the most recent performance, assuming that performance in one form of cricket will translate to others. This has led to a series of selections that simply do not put players in a position to succeed. Glenn Maxwell may well be a fine test batsmen one day. But right now, he has one speed and is not capable of building the kind of innings it takes to succeed in test cricket (let alone perform at number 3, where the differences are even more pronounced).

The solution may well be simple – a separate National Selection Panel for test cricket. They would have no role in selecting the ODI or Twenty20 teams, and therefore should have no interest in their performance. They would be tasked with focusing exclusively on the performance of Australian’s in first class cricket or test cricket. In terms of the Mere Exposure Effect, hopefully they will only be exposed to first class cricket, thus reducing the desire to pick people based on performance in short form cricket.

You may remember this solution from 1997 when, after failing to make the World Series Final[1] the Australian Cricket Board noticed that its ageing team was falling behind a rapidly changing one day game. It decided that it would become official policy to select different one day and test teams. The result was designed to pick players suited to each type of game. Hence Justin Langer never again played one day cricket, and no one ever felt the need to pick bits and piece players like Ian Harvey (or, as he’ll now be known, 1990s Glenn Maxwell) for the test team.

Now we need to reverse the focus. We need selectors with a unique understanding of each form of cricket. This may not guarantee that the selectors would actually be able to avoid picking based on form in other types of cricket. Nor would it stop them from guessing and following ‘hunches’. And it wouldn’t have stopped what happened in Pakistan from happening. But it may lead them to focus more on actual performance and data. And it may actually be a better way to select a team.

[1] Remember when that was a thing? Holy shit that’s a stupid concept.


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