“I don’t have a craving to be liked by the players: it was never my aspiration to be liked. My aspiration is to serve the England team, make the right decisions and do the best job I can.”
This is how Ed Smith, England’s chief national cricket selector and a former Tonbridge boy, described his role during a discussion at the school on Tuesday (11 February).
“I’m incredibly lucky to have a job like this, that I love, and I’m at ease with taking risks," he added. "The worst aspect, if there is one, is the accountability, and that’s where I really earn the salary. When things go wrong, people want someone to blame, and I’m comfortable with that someone being me.”
Ed, who was a day boy at Tonbridge between 1990 and 1995, was taking part in the school’s Tennant Lecture Series. During a discussion with James Priory, Headmaster at Tonbridge, topics ranged from school days to his views on character, failure and luck in sport and in life, and the importance of play and ‘playfulness’ for wellbeing and mental health. He also took questions from the audience.
Ed graduated with a double first from the University of Cambridge, where he was awarded his cricket ‘blue’, before embarking on a professional cricket career with Kent, Middlesex and, briefly, England – he played three Tests in the 2003 series against South Africa but was never picked again. Citing honesty as one of the key attributes of a good selector, he applied this honesty to himself when analysing his Test career. “They found someone better,” he admitted.
Retiring from cricket due to injury at the age of only 31, Ed became an author and journalist: his second work, On and Off the Field, was named the 2005 Wisden Book of the Year, and was shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year. In Luck: What it Means and Why it Matters, he examines the concepts of fortune and fate.
He joined the BBC's renowned Test Match Special team in 2013, became England's chief national cricket selector in 2018 and has recently founded the Institute of Sports Humanities with another OT, Sir Anthony Seldon. As national selector, the squad he picked won the Cricket World Cup in July 2019.
Ed’s appearance at Tonbridge came on the eve of the announcement of the England Test squad to face Sri Lanka in March, and he was asked for his views on Zak Crawley, another Tonbridge pupil who has recently progressed to the England side. “Zak came into a team (on the South Africa tour) that was hit by illness and injury,” he said.
“We decided to play some younger players and invest in the future, and suddenly the whole mood of the tour changed. For the Second Test we chose five players who were 24 or younger, and they brought a great energy on to the field. Ultimately, we are looking for players who show great character as well as having the quality needed, and it was clear to me for some time that Zak could do very well.” England won the Test series in South Africa 3-1.
Ed also paid tribute to his school. “I think I was incredibly fortunate to come here, not just because of the sport I played and the teachers and coaches I had, but because there were so many opportunities. I was involved with everything from public speaking and debating to acting and directing house plays. It’s hard to recall exactly how I felt at 13 when I arrived here, but when I left I knew I wanted to lead an interesting life.”
Pictured above and below: Ed Smith and James Priory in conversation.