James Pattinson looks set to be unleashed in the Ashes, Marcus Stoinis is finally falling out of favour with the selectors and Alex Carey is firming as Australia’s next Test wicketkeeper.
Those were among my takeaways from Cricket Australia’s announcement of their 17-man contract list for 2021-22.
Six months out from the T20 World Cup, Australia’s contract list included nine players all but cemented in Australia’s best XI in the shortest format – David Warner, Aaron Finch, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa and Kane Richarson.
They were complemented by five Test fixtures in Marnus Labuschagne, Cameron Green, Tim Paine, Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood and ODI star Alex Carey. The last two spots in the contract list went to a pair of fast bowlers who haven’t been locks in the starting line-up for Australia in any format – James Pattinson and Jhye Richardson.
Look out England, Pattinson is coming for you
That’s the only possible reason Cricket Australia would hand a highly-prized central contract to an injury-prone quick who has represented Australia just four times in the past five years. Pattinson is not a realistic short format option, owning ordinary white-ball records and having last played a limited-overs international nearly six years ago.
So a major Ashes role must be planned for Pattinson to justify him taking up one of a small number of contracts. It seems likely that against England Australia will abandon their reliance on the so-called Big Three of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc.
As I argued in a piece for The Roar` in January, this inflexibility in selection hurt them badly during their home Test series defeat against India. www.theroar.com.au/2021/01/21/australias-reliance-on-the-big-four-is-hindering-them/ Pattinson is a brilliant fast bowler with an excellent Test record. If he’s fit next summer Starc should find it tough to hold on to his spot for the Ashes.
Stoinis is deservedly falling out of favour
It is no surprise Marcus Stoinis lost his Cricket Australia contract. Few Australians have played more limited over internationals in the past five years than Stoinis, who’s been a regular presence in and around Australia’s white-ball sides despite a long-term form slump in ODIs and never quite finding his feet in T20Is.
Stoinis made a flying start to his ODI career but has been awful in the past three years, averaging just 20 with the bat from 32 ODIs. Soon to turn 32 years old, there appears to be no upside in Stoinis as an ODI cricketer. Australia surely must now invest in the enormous talent and potential of fellow Western Australia all-rounder Cameron Green.
In the shortest format Stoinis is a BBL superstar but has never managed to translate that to the international level. Australia do, however, have a dire shortage of capable middle-order T20 batsmen ahead of the T20 World Cup in six month’s time. And Stoinis is currently being used down the order by his IPL team the Delhi Capitals. So he does have a window of opportunity to vault himself into Australia’s World Cup line-up.
Carey remains ahead of Inglis in the Test pecking order
The fact Carey kept his central contract despite being dumped from the T20I side last year indicates how highly he is viewed by Cricket Australia. Australia’s upcoming 12 months is dominated by Tests and T20Is, two formats in which Carey is very unlikely to feature.
Carey retaining his contract is to me another sign that he’s being groomed to succeed Tim Paine as the Test wicketkeeper. That could happen within the term of this contract, as I can see Paine retiring after the Ashes at 37 years of age.
Josh Inglis made a strong case to be considered as a replacement for Paine with a commanding Shield season. But my gut feeling is that Carey remains the clear frontrunner. A solid gloveman and fast-improving batsman who has averaged 53 in first-class cricket over the past three years, Carey shapes as a fine Test prospect.
Cricket Australia men’s contract list for 2021-22
Ashton Agar, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Glenn Maxwell, Tim Paine, James Pattinson, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner, Adam Zampa.