The Cricket Australia men’s contract list for 2021/22 has ignited plenty of debate among the sporting community, with a handful of shock snubs raising eyebrows.
Former Australian Test vice-captain Travis Head headlined a list of talents omitted from the 17-man list, along with Marcus Stoinis, Will Pucovski and Mitchell Marsh.
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Head was the second-highest run-scorer during the recent Sheffield Shield tournament, cracking 893 runs in seven matches, including three centuries and three fifties.
Although he stands as Australia’s most likely No. 5 for next summer’s Ashes series, there was no room for him in the national contract list.
Meanwhile, the identity of David Warner’s opening partner for next summer’s Ashes remains a mystery.
The primary candidates — Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja and Pucovski — were all omitted from the contract list.
Pucovski’s absence understandably caused the most uproar — the Victorian prodigy smacked consecutive double centuries in the Sheffield Shield before a promising Test debut against India at the SCG.
But injury and concussion plagued the 23-year-old’s breakout summer — he recently underwent surgery on his right shoulder, which was dislocated during the New Year’s Test.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Hohns conceded Pucovski’s ongoing recovery factored into the decision not to include him.
“Will is seen as a huge talent … he had a bright start to his Test match career, but unfortunately he has just undergone quite severe surgery on his shoulder,” Hohns explained.
“He’s still in recovery mode right now, with no real guarantee he’ll be fit for the start of the season.
“It’s a concern that there’s no standout (to open with Warner at the Ashes) but we’re challenging players to really put their hand up again at the start of next season and to get into the Australian side, and perform well when they’re there.”
The men’s contract list has been reduced from 20 players to 17, which Hohns attributed to a desire to reward consistency.
“We want to create an environment where players strive for national selection through consistent domestic performances and earn national contracts through consistent international performances,” Hohns said.
According to The Herald Sun, CA decided to slash the list size in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Age’s Daniel Cherny pointed out the damaging ramifications this could have on domestic teams.
“Big trickle down effect for state contracts. Tough for guys on edge at Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia in particular. A lot of players will miss out because of CA’s decision,” Cherny tweeted.
“Take Will Pucovski. He’d surely deserve a maximum state contract. That could squeeze out 2-3 lesser players.”
Although there was no room for Head or Pucovski, Victorian paceman James Pattinson was awarded a national contract, despite playing just four international games in any format since March 2016.
Pattinson and Kane Richardson would not feature in Australia’s first-choice starting XI for any format, yet both made the cut.
Incredibly, of the 17 cricketers featured in the list, only four would be recognised as Test batters.
Ahead of a home Ashes series, the lack of specialist Test players within the contract list is concerning.
But Australia has zero Test matches scheduled until November, and the lack of five-day cricket over the upcoming 12 months seemingly influenced the final decision.
With a T20 World Cup on the horizon, several short-format specialists earned national contracts, including Ashton Agar, Adam Zampa and Glenn Maxwell.
Australia has never won a T20 World Cup title from six attempts, something CA would be eager to rectify.
Queenslander tweaker Mitchell Swepson was another notable absentee — he finished the 2020/21 Sheffield Shield as the third-highest wicket-taker with 32 wickets at 23.40, including three five-wicket hauls.
Those numbers are extraordinary for any leg-spin bowler in Australian conditions, particularly when considering the batting-friendly pitches witnessed throughout the summer.
ESPNcricinfo’s Daniel Brettig tweeted: “Surprised and disappointed not to see Swepson on that list either, as he is the only spinner currently challenging Lyon’s place with performance. In all, the list is a lot more stick than carrot for aspiring members of the Test team. Be interesting if this keeps players hungry, as is no doubt intended, or causes some to fall back, frustrated.”
The bombshell contract list sets up a thrilling start to next summer’s Sheffield Shield competition — an old-fashioned “bat-off” awaits the fringe Test stars vying for an Ashes spot.
“It’s no secret there are positions available, whether it’s in the middle order or the top of the list,” Hohns told reporters.
Head and Moises Henriques will go head-to-head for the No. 5 spot, while any opening batter could find themselves in the Australian starting XI if they score enough first-class runs — just like Cameron Bancroft in 2017 and Marcus Harris in 2018.
Cricket Australia 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