“I’m trying to think of it as . . . everyone has such strong opinions about who should be in the Australian cricket team, and that’s great. There would be a lot of sports killing for that type of interest in their national team,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
“I don’t know if I’ve got a thick skin or not. But if the boys play like they did last week, it makes things easier.”
Bailey brings significant generational change to a panel whose chairman, Trevor Hohns, is 65 and finished his playing career nearly three decades ago. Chappell was 70 when he retired midway through the year.
The Tasmanian is not the youngest Australian selector of recent years – Michael Clarke was a selector in his early 30s under the short-lived, post-Argus review structure in which the captain also helped pick the team. But in transitioning straight from playing in teams to selecting them, as Bailey will do after he finishes up in the Big Bash League with Hobart Hurricanes this summer, he is a contemporary of many of the international aspirants he will be running the rule over.
A deep thinker on the game, the former Australia one-day and Twenty20 captain sees selecting as a process of information gathering, discovery and conviction, not dissimilar to how he led teams at state and national level and how, in the later years of his career, he adopted a very unorthodox closed batting stance.
“I like to think the way I captained was pretty collaborative,” Bailey said. “I’ve always tried to lead the teams I have by really trying to gather as many ideas as I can from around me. But at the end of the day I’ve always been prepared to make my own decisions.
I distinctly remember when I was captain you could barely remember who was in your last side, or where you played or who you played against, let alone how you actually went as a team.
“The easiest example is my batting technique for the last couple of years. You can take everyone’s advice in and everyone has a right to their opinion, but at the end of the day you get all the information you can and go with that.”
Communication with players will be a priority – he says he sees selectors as “a servant to the players in many respects” – but in his interview for the job he spoke at length about another key interest: team cohesion.
“I’m really interested in what makes some teams perform better,” he said. “Is there a magical number of games that you have to get a group playing together before they become really well gelled? Is there a type of individual that tours better than other people? What kind of person can handle being 12th or 13th man for long periods on tours? All those things, I think, are really interesting.”
It’s a concept that is particularly relevant when it comes to the national T20 team, which is assembling more frequently this summer ahead of next year’s T20 World Cup in Australia but in the past has gathered irregularly.
“I distinctly remember when I was captain you could barely remember who was in your last side, or where you played or who you played against, let alone how you actually went as a team,” he said.
Bailey will help pick teams in all three formats but he brings particular expertise in T20, having as a player been in the thick of its emergence and evolution.
“T20 in many respects is the most interesting and most fascinating because of [the process of] trying to get to the bottom of measuring performance,” he said. “I’ll use the example of someone who bats at six and might get four balls in one game versus someone who gets 40 balls in one game. How do you measure a 14 off six balls versus a 16 off 16 balls at different stages of the game? All those things are really interesting. You forget how new T20 still is, in many respects, in a very traditional game.
“I think cricket is starting to look for ways to measure those differences. There is no doubt when you look at the make-up of that last Australian squad that played in the games [against Sri Lanka and Pakistan] at the start of the summer, that was a different make-up. In the past you’d go down the top run scorers and you’d end up with five or six opening batters or a No.3 and you’d try to fit them into a team. It looked to me, for the first time in a long time, a really balanced team and you could see some team cohesion.”
Chris Barrett is Sports Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.