Throughout the summer on a Wednesday night, the selection committee of my cricket club convene to decide the fate of the men who make up the 3 sides.
The debates can be long and hard, but decisions are made and the team sheets are posted.
Often the choices spark controversy, not least in those overlooked for the 1st XI. It's a thankless task.
What if you are on the selection committee this season? What principles can stand you in good stead to keep the arguments down and make sure the right team is picked?
1. Most players pick themselves
The easy part of selection is the first few players. Even in struggling teams there is a core of players who are always picked for the first team. They are clearly the best in the club.
Their names are quickly noted down without comment. In a good team this is 8 or 9 names, in a struggling side it's as low as 5 or 6.
In most club sides the core players contain enough all rounders to cover the top six batsmen and the first four bowlers. This leads to a common selection problem in the rest of the team. More on that in a moment.
Even these core players struggle at certain times. Selectors tend to give the stars a bit longer to regain form before dropping them. The good players also spend less time proving themselves in a lower team. They don't need to spend as long because they have already shown they are capable, just lacking a little form.
Underneath the core first players are the core reserves, who get quickly penned in to the 2nd XI. Some weeks the reserves will find themselves filling the last few slots of the first team.
(And this is where the biggest debates happen).
2. Dropping and promoting
The last few slots of the first team take the longest time to decide in selection meetings.
It's common knowledge that an unchanged side is the most settled. Players are familiar with each other and tactics are well drilled.
But it's easy for a settled team to become too cosy. Players never get dropped for bad form and reserves are never given a chance. For that reasons selectors should not be afraid of dropping anyone if they feel they can strengthen the team, even if it is a winning side.
A common problem in club cricket is when a few good players dominate.
A couple of stars who can bat and bowl mean that the top 6 batsman also cover most of the bowling slots. That leaves a bowler or tow who hardly get any overs or an in-form batsman languishing at number 8 when he could be batting at 3 in the 2nd XI.
One solution is to rotate this position so all the 2nd XI players have a turn at the dreaded TFC position (Thanks for Coming). Really confident sides can also be brave and give the promoted player a decent game over the stars. It might mean your brilliant all rounder batting at 6 instead of 4 or bowling less overs, but you can usually work in a player, even if he is just making up the numbers.
Another sticky problem is when to drop a star player who is out of form.
We all get bad runs but different characters need different treatment. Some will enjoy the chance to regain confidence against weaker opposition. Another player will prefer to keep the pressure on by getting form back while keeping his place.
The key question is this: Can you make the team stronger by using an in-form reserve player? If you can then give your star a run in a lower side, but bring him back as soon as you can.
3. Not available next week?
Sometimes your hand is forced as a selector. People get injured or are unavailable because of other commitments.
In the short term this is great. You can try new combinations of players with different skills until you find the perfect balance of the side.
One battle my own club has is over the wicketkeeping position. The two wicketkeepers offer different things: One the silkier keeper, the other the better sergeant-major. If one is not available the other can cover, if they are both ready to play the debate can be long in selection.
Unavailable can also mean unreliable. Players who often drop out or can only play a handful of games can be disruptive to the team. As a long term policy you need to decide if this player's runs and wickets are worth the hassle they bring. If the bad outweighs the good then put him in a lower standard side to avoid problems in your premier eleven.
4. Bringing in young legs
Another reason to make a change is to bring in a young player who has never had a run at a higher level.
This could be a teenager who has put a good showing in youth cricket or a guy in his early 20's in the 2nd XI. He may be unproven and inexperienced but you see talent there that is worth nurturing.
This means early promotion and a certain amount of carrying the player in the early days if he has nerves to overcome.
The mistake is to pick the player and never use him. A good batsman will be better off in the top order 2nd XI than batting at 8 or 9 in the firsts. A decent bowler needs overs under his belt for experience too. So if you promote a player with potential make sure the captain is prepared to use him.
5. Horses for courses?
The final key selection issue is whether to pick a player for a certain match.
Mainly this will be bowlers. For example the medium pace seamer might be picked when you know the wicket is slow and grassy with an overcast forecast. Another example might be picking another spinner for a dry, dusty wicket.
The problem with this approach is that you can never know for sure if your one-off selection will pay dividends. It's a gamble. It also means changing the team and, as you know, you want to avoid that unless the changed team is stronger.
The key is to let the player know why he is being selected so he doesn't feel hard done by when he is dropped the following week even though he took 5 wickets.
There is no hard and fast rule for picking players in one-off situations but if your hunch pays off you will get respect in the bar afterwards!
If you have selection experiences (either as a selector or someone who has been in the middle of a selection brouhaha) then leave a comment and let us know what happened.
image credit: yuichi.sakuraba