In all the excitement of the first week of finals footy in both the AFL and NRL, Roar cricket fans could be forgiven for missing an announcement from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) about which players have been offered contracts for the coming 12 months.
The ECB uses a system quite different from that used by Cricket Australia. Players can be awarded a centralised contract for Tests only, for white-ball cricket only, for both Tests and white-ball cricket and a fourth category termed an ‘increment contract’.
This doesn’t mean players can’t swap between formats, but they are more likely to feature in English teams under the contracts they’ve been given.
The following contracts were issued last week:
Test and white-ball contracts
Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler, Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes.
James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Zak Crawley, Sam Curran, Ollie Pope and Dom Sibley.
Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Tom Curran, Eoin Morgan, Adil Rashid, Jason Roy and Mark Wood.
Dom Bess, Chris Jordan, Jack Leach and Dawid Malan.
There’s an additional category termed ‘pace bowling development contract’, which I won’t discuss. The current recipients are Saqib Mahmood, Craig Overton and Olly Stone.
There are a number of interesting points that can be inferred from where some of the names appear or even where they don’t appear.
In the first category there are the usual suspects: Stokes, Root, Buttler and Archer. But one name missing is Jonny Bairstow, who has been offered only a white-ball contract.
Bairstow didn’t figure in any of the Tests in the recent English summer and his batting form in the Tests he played last year seemed to have deserted him.
The question now is: where does he rate in terms of coming to Australia for next year’s Ashes series? Clearly the ECB seem to be pinning their hopes on Jos Buttler as their No. 1 Test keeper, but is Bairstow or Ben Foakes the understudy?
There are a few interesting names in the next category: Test only contracts. Bear in mind these contracts last 12 months from 1 October each year.
Along with Woakes and Stokes, Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Sam Curran are all in this category, which would suggest these guys are at the forefront of the ECB’s thinking when it comes to England’s attack for the Ashes.
There’d been talk of Anderson retiring, and even Stuart Broad admitted he thought about giving up Test cricket after being dropped for the first West Indies Test. It now seems they’ll be expected to keep going for another 12 months and probably should be considered certainties to tour Australia barring injury.
On the other side of the coin Joe Denly’s international career appears over, with his name not appearing on any list. Zac Crawley seems certain to hold down the No. 3 batting spot, and at 34 and with a Test average in the 20s Denly might score the odd ODI or T20 but would be unlikely to come back into Test side.
There has to be a huge concern in English cricket that no spinner rates a full Test contract.
Both Dom Bess and Jack Leach have each been given incremental contracts, which appears to suggest the English selectors aren’t sure which of the two will be their preferred Test spinner. It also suggests the ECB isn’t sure whether either is good enough to play for England on a regular basis.
The Ashes are still more than a year away but these contracts are a strong indicator about who is both likely and not likely to make that tour. Obviously much can happen between now and then, but these are the players Justin Langer and Tim Paine will be focusing on over the coming months if we’re to retain the Ashes.
For information, the following players have a current contract with Cricket Australia: Ashton Agar, Joe Burns, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Tim Paine, James Pattinson, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, Dave Warner and Adam Zampa.