Selection of cricket teams is a tough and thankless task.
When I was captain of the Somerset County Cricket Club, coach Andy Hurry and I were basically the sole selectors.
When it came to line-ball decisions, we had our experienced cricket manager, Brian Rose, to bounce ideas off, but daily decisions, were made by the two of us.
Of all the roles required on and off the field from the captain, selecting the teams was the hardest.
Opening the batting, tactics in the field, managing players and fronting the media and committees, were an easier task than selection.
Since retiring and taking up coaching nothing has really changed.
There are plenty of challenges and at times there doesn’t feel like there is enough hours in the day, but it still feels like selecting teams, or contract lists, is the job that consumes most of my mental energy.
Recently I was involved in a personality testing exercise.
After answering a series of questions, co-coordinator Warren Kennaugh, talked me through the results.
At one point he looked at me and said, “I get the feeling you are going to have a lot of sleepless nights in this new job of yours” (as coach of the Western Australian and Scorchers cricket team).
After quizzing him, he told me that I rated very highly in compassion and caring for people.
“Isn’t that a good thing” I asked?
“Yes it is, but when it comes to selection and telling people they are dropped from the team or de-listed from the contract list, then you are going to find it difficult.”
With experience, I have found that looking the person in the eyes and telling him them the truth is the easiest and best way to deliver the news, but getting to that point can keep you awake at night.
Not only do the selectors need to get the team balance right, but they also need to make subjective judgments on character, leadership, experience, form and conditions.
Over the next few weeks, John Inverarity and his team of selectors need to pick the Ashes squad to tour England.
Having finalised and announced the contract list last week, it is now time to select the 17- man touring squad.
Back in 1993 I missed selection in the Ashes touring squad. At the time I was devastated.
Having made my debut against the West Indies a few months before, the notion of touring England with the Australian cricket team was one of life’s dreams.
For most Australian cricket players the same is true, so when John Inverarity, Rod Marsh, Andy Bichel, Mickey Arthur and Michael Clarke sit down to select their squad, the responsibility is high.
Ultimately their goal is to select a team capable of winning back the Ashes.
On the back of the recent Indian tour, some may believe this is an impossible task, but I know they will be asking themselves the same questions all other cricket supporters will be pondering.
Who will open the batting?
Is Phil Hughes the best number 3? If not, who is?
Where will Michael Clarke bat? Will his back be ok?
Who will be the extra batsman? Is it Usman Khawaja, George Bailey, Adam Voges, Shaun Marsh or David Hussey?
Do they go for the experience, or the potential of a Joe Burns or an Alex Doolan?
Who will play the swinging ball the best?
Do we need more right hand batsmen to conquer Graeme Swann?
But then, Monty Panesar is back, so maybe more left-handers is the way to go?
Where should Shane Watson bat? Is he going to be able to bowl, or do we need to look at another all rounder? If so, is it Moises Henriques?
Or, have the selectors shown their cards by offering Tasmanian James Faulkner a CA contract this year?
Is Glenn Maxwell a spinning all-rounder or does he need more time to develop in Test cricket?
What is the best pace bowling combination?
Is Mitchell Johnson the man, or does Mitchell Starc fill the left armers position?
Do we need more left-armers too create some rough for Nathan Lyon’s off spin?
If we do that, does it give Graeme Swann an advantage?
Will James Pattinson be fit? Where is Pat Cummins at with his body? Will our young fast bowler’s hold up, or will the trend of injury to their young bodies continue?
Do we trust our experienced men like Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus or do we hit England with some bowlers they have seen less of?
Can we fit Jackson Bird in? Maybe his style of bowling would be dangerous in England?
What about our spinner? Does Xavier Doherty tour because left arm spinners traditionally do well in England or do they take a punt on young left-armer Ashton Agar?
Is Agar any good? Can he handle the pressure? Is it to early for him, or would his youthful exuberance and all round ability mean the experience would be invaluable?
Where is Fawad Ahmed with his passport? We love leg spinners in Australia and we know England traditionally struggle against the leggie, but is he really the right choice?
Wade or Haddin? Or both?
Brilliantly, the list goes on forever.
And, while it is fun for us ‘cricket tragics’ to discuss, debate and speculate; it is the selectors who have to put their neck on the line and make the final calls.
When the squad is announced, there will be some celebrations and a few tears.
Those selected will feel jubilant, but wary of the challenge ahead.
There is great expectation on any Australian touring team, let alone, an Ashes touring squad, so they will be handed the torch of responsibility.
Hopefully they will accept the honor and make all Australians proud, regardless of the final result.
The players who miss out won’t be able to see past the end of their noses for a while, but they will get over it and come to realise that they need to be better next time.
As for the selectors they will be relieved when their final list is announced, but are unlikely to rest until the series is over. At that point the questions will continue, depending on the outcomes.
Over the summer, John Inverarity and his crew have been the brunt of much criticism.
Theirs is a thankless job and I don’t envy their position because I know from experience just how hard a task they have, especially in these times of Australian cricket.
How Michael Clarke handles the extra responsibility of selection is a matter for him and CA, but I can only imagine the added pressure is something that should be closely and constantly monitored.
The lead up to any Ashes campaign is always exciting and filled with theatre and drama. This year is sure to be the same.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia