Luke Wright’s appointment as an England selector on Tuesday coincided with his retirement from professional cricket, bringing a decorated, 20-year career to a close. He leaves the game with over 20,000 runs and more than 300 wickets; the record for the most runs in the T20 Blast; and a host of trophies to his name – including England’s first in a men’s ICC event, the 2010 World T20.
He is the latest in a string of shrewd appointments Rob Key has made since becoming managing director earlier this year, though it was notable that his job title – ‘England men’s selector’ – differed slightly to the position of ‘national selector’ that was publicly advertised.
Rather than assuming responsibility for selection himself, Wright will instead join panels comprising the relevant captain and coach, England’s performance director (Mo Bobat) and player ID lead (David Court) and Key himself, who retains his involvement having initially planned to step back.
His role lies somewhere in between the ones previously filled by Ed Smith and James Taylor before Ashley Giles’ ill-judged and ill-fated decision to concentrate power in the hands of Chris Silverwood. Crucially, his arrival adds another voice from outside the dressing room to test the assumptions and biases of coaches and captains.
Wright’s appointment – and his simultaneous retirement – stands in stark contrast to the job specification published by the BCCI on Friday in their hunt for a new, five-man panel to select India’s squads. While Wright had a year left on his Sussex contract, the BCCI stipulated that candidates “should have retired from the game at least 5 years ago”.
The BCCIs’ implication appeared to be that current – or even recent – players would carry with them the potential for conflicts of interests or perceived bias towards their former team-mates, but the ECB have no such concerns. Wright has always maintained an independent streak: first as a trailblazing T20 gun-for-hire in an era when English involvement in franchise leagues was scarce, and later as a forthright Sussex T20 captain who made his views clear on the exodus of the club’s best players.
In the times on Tuesday, Chris Nash, Wright’s long-time opening partner at Sussex, drew a perceptive parallel with Australia’s appointment of George Bailey. Like Bailey, Wright has played with and against a generation of England players and has kept pace with the modern game: he was good enough to be named in Test squads and made 17 first-class hundreds, and has also played in almost every white- ball tournament around the world.
There was a telling moment in January this year when Wright was working as a studio pundit for BT Sport on England’s T20I series against West Indies. There were several members of the home squad with limited international experience, about whom most English broadcasters would struggle to offer much insight. Not Wright: only two months previously, he had played alongside Romario Shepherd, Akeal Hosein and Dominic Drakes at the Abu Dhabi T10 and was perfectly placed to discuss their strengths.
Wright has spent the last three years in a number of different roles preparing for his post-playing career: he has worked as a batting coach at Melbourne Stars, a support coach for New Zealand and is leaving his role as Auckland’s performance and talent coach at the end of March; earlier this year, he graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a masters in sport directorship. It has been the ideal apprenticeship.
He will not join the ECB until the start of the 2023 season and the stakes will be high from the outset: within his first six months in the role, he will be involved in selection for a home Ashes series and the 50-over World Cup in India, where England will look to defend their title.
In practice, communication may become Wright’s most important skill. He is only one member of a selection panel but may well become its public face, explaining decisions to players behind closed doors and then to the media. It is an occupational hazard of the job that he will not always be popular and he will need to develop a thick skin.
Ultimately, he will be judged on his decisions. Both of England’s men’s white-ball teams are reigning world champions, and the Test side head to Pakistan with six wins from their last seven. Wright’s remit is simple: to help turn a high watermark into a period of sustained dominance.