New contracts, no surprises
After threats of a potential strike – which I honestly don’t think would have ever eventuated – CA and the ACA sorted out a new MOU agreement (more details on the new MOU can be found here) and the National Selection Panel revealed their 17 man contract list, down from the 25 of previous years. On the whole there aren’t a lot of surprises, but lets take a closer look.
First thing I noticed looking at new contract list is that it appears a little heavy on the bowling side with 9 specialist bowlers listed, including 7 fast men. But given the injury woes of the past year it is somewhat understandable that Cricket Australia want a solid, contracted, batch of pace bowlers that they can rotate through – hopefully preventing any further serious injuries. No real surprise batting inclusions, but a few interesting – but not shocking – omissions. What it all boils down to though is that there were 8 less contracts on offer, and that meant some players were going to miss out. There will however be the chance for upgrades as the year rolls on if players meet the necessary requirements.
If you look at combined stats (see the bottom of this article) the 8 batsmen that received contracts are also 8 of the 10 top run scorers for the past year. Shaun Marsh is eighth on that list, but a horror summer meant that no-one was particularly shocked to see his name missing from the list. Hughes is also gone from the list, but the man who replaced him, Ed Cowan, also didn’t manage to score a contract – but still has a good chance of earning an upgrade if he holds his spot in the side. Ed’s misfortune is most likely due to the fact that he’s only in the national team in one format of the game – Ricky Ponting is the only batsman on the contract list who is only available for one format following his recent retirement from the 50-over format.
Also unlucky to miss out on central contracts are Pete Forrest and George Bailey, both have had reasonable starts to their international careers, both are in the current squad touring the UK and both are available (and being selected) for multiple forms of the game. Bailey’s omission is particularly interesting given he’s the current national T20 captain after he took over over from Cameron White last summer. I saw it mentioned that Michael Clarke’s contract includes a captain’s bonus, does George Bailey also get a captain’s bonus, or does he also miss out on that because he doesn’t have a central contract? If so, that doesn’t seem right.
Interestingly David Hussey is the only batsman with a central contract who is yet to play test cricket, could this be the year he finally gets a chance? If so at whose expense will it be? Will he have to wait for an opportunity to present itself via injury? Or will he have to force his way in?
Mitchell Johnson was probably the biggest surprise in the bowling stocks, he’s been out of the side for an extended period, and although its technically due to injury there was a decent chance he was going to be dropped before injury took care of that decision. He did take 27 wickets, but they were the most expensive of the frontline bowlers – however he did feature in all three forms of the game unlike a couple of other bowlers. It’s also been revealed that Johnson was already guaranteed a contract after being given a two-year deal last season. Right now he’s fit again and back in the Aussie squad for the UK tour so he’s going to have to make the most of any opportunities that he gets to prove that he’s still deserving of a central contract, more so than those who missed out.
Of the top 10 wicket takers for Australia in the past year 8 are represented on the contract list. Only Brett Lee (5th) and Clint McKay (10th) missed out central contracts – McKay last held a contract in 2010-11. The two guys that have benefited most from the omission of Lee and McKay are Patrick Cummins and Mitchell Starc. Cummins was the bolter in last year’s contract list, and then exploded into the side during last year’s South African tour before falling to injury, and Starc was the guy the selectors turned to over the summer as everyone else got injured. He might not have taken as many wickets as the more senior bowlers in the squad, but he was still there.
The other deciding factor may have been some level future-proofing by the selectors, with the youthful pairing of Cumming and Starc (19 and 22 respectively) being viewed as long term prospects for Australia, whereas while Brett Lee is still effective (as shown in his recent outing against Ireland), he’s also 35 and getting towards the end of his career. Both Lee and McKay are touring with the ODI squad in the UK, but unlike Cummins and Starc look unlikely to be scoring a test berth in the near future. Cummins and Starc are also the only guys to be rewarded with a contract despite playing less than 10 games in national colours over the past year.
Just the two specialist spinners made the reduced contract list, with Nathan Lyon joining Xavier Doherty. Nathan Haurtiz and Jason Krejza had central contracts last year but didn’t play any games for Australia, Michael Beer played just the one test and Brad Hogg made a comeback to the T20 team thatnks to some very good BBL form, but none of them managed to score a contract this time around. Lyon is still the clear number one choice for test matches, and I hope the selectors stick with him, but I’d still like to see him get more opportunities in the limited overs arena – after all it was his successful run in domestic limited overs matches (in particular T20) that saw him plucked from the unknown and thrust into the test attack. However, at this point it’s probably going to take some very spin friendly conditions or an injury to Doherty before Lyon gets a solid chance at the short forms.
Brad Haddin holds onto his contract despite a horror year, he’s was the only guy in the top 15 runs scorers to average less than 20 with the bat. His replacement, Matthew Wade gets his first central contract, displacing Tim Paine to theoretically be the second-option keeper. I say theoretically because he’s currently holding down the number one keeper spot in all formats of the game, and its yet to be seen whether Haddin will just slot straight back into the Test team when the time comes.
Shave Watson is the only genuine all-rounder to land a contract. Both Steven Smith and John Hastings are gone from the list, Mitchell Marsh had a couple of games last year, as did Stephen O’Keefe, but like Smith and Hastings didn’t have a huge amount of success with either bat or ball. Injuries also didn’t help Hastings nor Marsh. The unluckiest guy is probably Dan Christian after playing in both the 50-over and 20-over formats, as well as being in the test squad briefly, during the summer. He also missed out on the UK tour, his numbers prior to that might not have been outstanding but they were hardly terrible – he’d taken 21 wickets and was averaging just a tick over 20 with the bat.
Twelve guys who were given contracts for 2011-12 missed out this time around, some didn’t play at all for Australia last year (Callum Ferguson, Nathan Hauritz, Jason Krejza, Tim Paine), many lost form – some severely, others only slightly – and were dropped (Phillip Hughes, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Steven Smith, Cameron White, Doug Bollinger, John Hastings) only one (Brett Lee) played 20+ games with good success but didn’t retain his contract.
Nathan Lyon was rewarded with a contract after a solid debut year as Australia’s first choice Test spinner. Mitchell Starc might be the luckiest guy in the list (his spot could have easily gone towards an additional batsman), but I’m sure he’ll put any opportunities he gets to good use. Another injury layoff for Tim Paine has seen Matthew Wade leap-frog his way into a central contract as the second contracted keeper and David Warner proved once and for all that he’s more than just a switch-hitting T20 demon and he will be looking to further cement his place at the top of the order in all three forms of the game.
For those that missed out on one of the initial 17 contracts on offer there is still a chance for them to earn an upgrade during the year. Apparently players need to collect 12 points to earn an upgrade. Tests are worth 5, ODIs worth 2 and T20s just the one. Based on this guys like Ed Cowan would be eligible for an upgrade after just three tests. If guys like Peter Forrest, Brett Lee or Clint McKay play all 6 ODIs on the UK tour they too will also rack up enough points for an upgrade – assuming that this tour is part of the new contract period (which it might not be, not sure).
Based on the math, it’s unlikely that a pure T20 specialist will be able to earn a contract, but if an un-contracted player can force their way into the Test and/or ODI teams and stay there long enough then they have a good chance at earning themselves an upgrade to a central contract.
Overall I think the 17 contracts all make good sense, and they are decisions that are – for the most part – backed up by the stats from the past year. One interesting area will be to see how the fringe batsmen perform, this time last year it was Shaun Marsh, Usman Khwaja and Philip Hughes fighting over test spots, 12 months on and none of them are in the frame. There will undoubtedly still be some surprise selections over the next 12 months – think back to last year when Trent Copeland landed in the Test Squad shortly after the 2011-12 contract list was announced, a list that he wasn’t part of.
Combined Batting Stats (Test, ODI, T20I)
June 7, 2011 – June 22, 2012
★ 2012/13 Contracted player
Combined Bowling Stats (Test, ODI, T20I)
June 7, 2011 – June 22, 2012
★ 2012/13 Contracted player