With the first ball of the Ashes set to be bowled in Brisbane today, it’s timely to look briefly at the series played in Australia stretching back to 1970-71.
As Cricket Australia finalises its men’s contract list for 2021/22, who can we expect to remain in the group of 20, and who will drop out?
The governing body is due to hand out central contracts next month.
And while the list does not determine playing XIs, (that is, ‘uncontracted’ players can be called into the national side at any stage), it is a strong indicator of where selectors’ plans lie.
As the governing body told us last year: “The contracts are primarily based on player performances during the past 12 months and those who the respective national selection panels believe may represent Australian teams in the coming year”.
Provided Cricket Australia opts to contract 20 mens players again, I’ve assessed who should be retained, and what changes should be made.
Running the rule over the 20 players signed last April, 17 should retain their contract.
A host of these are ‘locks’, but there’s also a number of players with question marks hanging over their head.
David Warner, Aaron Finch, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell are five batsmen who retain their contracts, no questions asked.
Similarly, seven bowlers should have already been ticked off.
They are: Ashton Agar, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Kane Richardson, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood and Adam Zampa.
Some might question’s Richardson’s spot in that list, but he remain’s Australia’s premier change-up/off-pace seamer, whose consistent selection reflects that.
With the gloves, skipper Tim Paine (obviously) retains his contract, and while Alex Carey’s T20 international form has dropped off of late, he remains the first-choice ODI keeper and next-in-line for the Test side.
However there are three players the selectors will have mulled over.
On Cricket Australia’s own criteria, James Pattinson should struggle.
The fiery quick has not played in the last 12 months and in fact, has played just four times for Australia in more than five years.
However, without a rib injury this summer he would have almost certainly replaced Mitchell Starc in the Gabba Test against India.
And provided he stays fit (which, with Pattinson, is a considerable ‘if’), he is in the selectors’ Ashes plans.
So he gets the nod.
Another bowler who has played little international cricket in recent years is Jhye Richardson.
Prior to the recent T20 tour of New Zealand, Richardson had played just once (an ODI in South Africa) in the preceding two years after persistent shoulder issues.
However, like Pattinson, the selectors will earmark him to have an impact in the next 12 months.
And given he is a three-format option, his stocks are strong.
Finally, Travis Head’s position would have been in question early this year, but two things now work heavily in his favour.
The first is that the selectors undeniably see him as a ten-year Test prospect.
The second is that he’s done exactly what has been asked of him since returning to the Sheffield Shield: score big runs.
So he should retain his central contract.
Three players without contracts are almost certain to be offered ones for 2021/22.
As new members of Australia’s best Test XI, Will Pucovski and Cameron Green are straight in.
Pucovski’s incredible start to the Shield season plus an impressive Test debut at the SCG means he is a well deserved contractee, while Green’s solid debut series was book-ended with similar brilliance at domestic level.
The third player is Marcus Stoinis, who should re-gain a contract after losing out for 2020/21.
With a heavy focus on T20 cricket this year, and Stoinis comfortably back in Australia’s best XI, the all-rounder should play a significant role.
Three players with contracts in the 2020/21 season are unlikely to be offered a renewal.
Joe Burns is without doubt one of these, and a player whose international career for now is on hold.
The Queenslander’s international career is not over, but having been pushed down the pecking order will need to score big Shield runs to re-enter the conversation.
The second player is Mitch Marsh, who hasn’t quite nailed down his spot in Australia’s ODI and T20 sides, despite some impressive performances in the last year.
With Agar, Maxwell and Stoinis, it’s hard to justify a fourth white-ball specific all-rounder in the contract list.
And finally, Matthew Wade may well be given the chop in April.
Wade himself admits that he hasn’t quite taken his opportunities in the last 12 months, and while he will likely feature again in an Australian shirt, it’s hard to see him offered a central contract.
Those not selected on the list of 20 can be elevated into contract status throughout the year should they accrue 12 ‘upgrade points’.
Players receive five points for a Test match, two for an ODI and one for a T20 International.
Both Marsh, Wade and even Josh Philippe are within this category, and with some luck could accrue enough points.
Perhaps the biggest chance however is Moises Henriques, who is on the fringes of all three Australian XIs.
He remains a smokey for a central contract, but may just be squeezed out.
(Predicted 2021/22 Cricket Australia contract list): David Warner, Will Pucovski, Aaron Finch, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Cameron Green, Glenn Maxwell, Travis Head, Marcus Stoinis, Tim Paine, Alex Carey, Ashton Agar, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Adam Zampa.