The probable direction for Australian cricket for the next year appears to have been set by the announcement of the new Cricket Australia contract list, with a couple of stand-out winners and some notable losers.
The list is heavy on current one-day specialists, highlighting not only the emphasis on what will be an important 12 months leading up to the World Cup, but also on the dearth of immediately obvious candidates to take up positions in the Test team over the same period.
Neither Jackson Bird nor Chadd Sayers – the number one support acts behind Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins this past summer in the Test squad – have been offered a contract, which suggests that the selectors have decided they are not the answer should injury knock down one of the ‘Big Three’.
It’s a huge comedown for both.
Bird has been the faithful 12th man for most of the past two years, only gaining a match on the stark and desolate road at the MCG in December, while Sayers finally got his chance in the baggy green in the final Test in South Africa, but now looks as though he will join fellow Redbacks Joe Mennie and Callum Ferguson as ‘one-Test wonders’.
The other major casualty of the new list is the casting aside of Adam Zampa, leaving his World Cup chances in great danger.
The spinner has been in and out of the ODI team and while his results haven’t been startling, he has shown good aptitude in difficult circumstances.
It would appear that the selectors are siding towards the big-hitting Ashton Agar and part-time spin options like Travis Head and Glenn Maxwell for their World Cup team, which squeezes Zampa out.
Coming in to considerations are the fast-bowling Richardson pair of Jhye and Kane, and the economical trickery of Andrew Tye. All three will be looking to book places in the squad behind the ‘Big Three’, with Tye probably the favourite at the moment. Having toured South Africa as a back-up paceman, Jhye may already be considered as the next in line for a Test place as well, given the fate of both Bird and Sayers.
There was also recognition for Marcus Stoinis, who will be a major factor of that ODI squad and in some people’s eyes will also be looked at for the Test team.
Tim Paine and Alex Carey are the nominated wicketkeepers at the expense of Matthew Wade, and Paine will no doubt have received a hefty increase given his rise in stature following the departure of Steve Smith and David Warner. Whether he captains the ODI team as well as the Test team, or that duty is given to Aaron Finch, is yet to be seen. Also, given Carey’s excellent debut in the Twenty20 team in February, he may well retain that role in the future as well.
Shaun Marsh returns to the contract list, which not only suggests he is still well and truly in the Test match frame, but may also make a surprise return to the ODI team as Finch’s opening partner in place of Warner. Marsh has good statistics as an opener in 50-over cricket, and retaining the left-right combination at the top of the order would be a bonus.
The glaring deficiency in the contract list is for the next line of Test batsmen. The selectors have about as much idea as to whom will be in the team as every armchair selector in the country, which is a signal to every batsman in Australia that big, early runs in the Sheffield Shield – like Cameron Bancroft scored last season – could be the springboard to a Test cap.
Those not on the contract list are not finished – all can be added at a later date should their form and selection warrant it.
But it is an interesting initial look at what the selectors are thinking for a side sans-Smith, Warner and Bancroft.