Cricket Australia confirms contracts
Australian fast bowler, Mitchell Starc, leads a list of 20 players who are awarded top level contracts for the upcoming 2013-14 seasons.PT0M0S 620 349
There's nothing like back-to-back Ashes to inspire more than usual fascination in the annual handout of Cricket Australia contracts. This year, with an atmosphere of gloom around the Test team, the anticipation was even greater.
That does nothing to dispel the perception of confusion about Australia’s best Test team. For instance, Khawaja remains on the outer, despite being spruiked as a top six batsman for England
But the most striking thing about the list announced on Wednesday is the number of contracts - the maximum allocation of 20 - and the absence of a handful of players expected to play significant roles in the Ashes. Are there really, based on recent performances and the dysfunctional team culture exposed in India, 20 cricketers in the country deserving of national deals?
Michael Clarke ... there is daylight between him and the rest of the squad. Photo: Getty Images
If so, Steve Smith and Jackson Bird can consider themselves unlucky not to be among them.
Smith's case is ironic. Two years ago he was a poster boy for a bloated contract system that paid young cricketers too much, too soon. Now, fresh from a series in which he was Australia's best batsman other than Michael Clarke, he misses the list.
Bird took 11 wickets in his first two Tests but could not displace Ben Hilfenhaus. Or, for that matter, Clint Mckay, who appears because of his limited-overs exploits.
Mitchell Starc deserved to vault into the top echelon, not only because he plays all formats, and plays them well, but because he sacrificed a big IPL pay day to dedicate himself to playing for Australia.
Victorian all-rounder Glenn Maxwell, who has much work to do to hold his place as either a batsman or bowler in the Test team, scraped in.
His deal of about $235,000 is insignificant compared with the $1 million he'll get from the Mumbai Indians in the IPL but it is up to Maxwell to ensure he does not fall into the trap Smith has just climbed out of.
The list does reveal something about the selectors' Ashes intentions. In that regard, pencil in pugnacious Tasmanian all-rounder James Faulkner for the England tour. Faulkner, who has already played a handful of limited-overs games for Australia, excelled with bat and ball in the Sheffield Shield final. In addition, his left-arm fast-mediums should be well-suited to English conditions.
Quicks Ryan Harris and Pat Cummins are worth keeping on for the damage they might do to England, if they can stay on the park.
Last season, the list was trimmed to 17, an admission that allocating 25 contracts allowed too much margin for error. It was also supposed to be the start of a new era of performance-based selections and an emphasis on Tests.
The decision to reward 20 players, four of whom have not played a Test in 12 months, appears to deviate from those principles. In fact it conveys a disturbing void at the top of Australian cricket, where there is Clarke and then daylight.
The retirements of Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey freed up lots of cash but there are few outstanding performers to spend it on. So the selectors chose to spread the money across a bigger squad.
That does nothing to dispel the perception of confusion about Australia's best team. Usman Khawaja remains on the outer, despite being spruiked as a top six batsman.
Nor does the contract list change the conventional wisdom that, while blessed with a strong platoon of pacemen, Australia will struggle to fix its batting woes in time for the Ashes.