Katich cut from contract list
Simon Katich's Test career is effectively finished and he may yet retire from cricket altogether after he was denied a Cricket Australia contract in the most significant change to the 25-man list of national team players for the 2011-12 season.
Mike Hussey, 36, and Katich, 35, were the two players thought in most danger of being culled as the national selectors maintain their push towards youth. The strong form of New South Wales team-mates and fellow top order batsmen Phil Hughes and David Warner, late in the domestic season, arguably tipped the scales against Katich.
All this was understandably difficult to fathom for Katich who, with 2928 runs at 50.48 since he was recalled to the Test team in 2008, has been not only Australia's most reliable batsman but among the most bankable in the world. In that time only Alastair Cook has scored more runs.
"It was obviously devastating for Simon, from the time he went out of the Australian team and fought his way back through weight of runs he's been a really fantastic player for us and has been extremely successful," said Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, at the contract announcement in Adelaide.
"So it was a big decision, obviously really hard on Simon, but in our view the opening partnership is critical, it takes time to get a good opening partnership and we think now the time is right to make sure we have the right opening partnership come the Ashes.
"He was really devastated as you can imagine, and they're not easy phone calls to make, he was really upset."
Katich played his last Test during the innings defeat in the second Ashes Test in Adelaide in December last year, limping out of international cricket with a torn Achilles tendon that cancelled him out of the equation for the remainder of the series. His manager, Robert Joske, said Katich would take some time to consider his future before speaking publicly.
"Simon's bitterly disappointed but we're going to take a look at all of the options," Joske told ESPNcricinfo. "There's lots of options we'll look at, both playing and non-playing, before we decide what's best for Simon and his family. We'll wait until the dust settles."
Hussey's staunch efforts during the Ashes were followed up by a rapid recovery from a hamstring tear to play a walk-on role in the World Cup in March, and he also made a century against Bangladesh in Dhaka during Michael Clarke's first tour as captain in April. Hilditch said Hussey and the former captain Ricky Ponting would have to shepherd a young batting line-up through the perils of Sri Lanka and South Africa.
"We see them having a very important role with our middle order," Hilditch said. "It's as tough as it gets, Sri Lanka away, South Africa away, India at home, we play three of the top four nations in the next 12 months, so it's a really demanding time and we just think they've got a great role to play at the moment."
Another most significant contractual decision is the inclusion of the 18-year-old NSW paceman Patrick Cummins. Cummins, currently recuperating from a back strain that has kept him out of the Australia A tour of Zimbabwe, is the youngest player to be granted a contract since the current system was introduced in 1998.
Xavier Doherty, John Hastings, David Hussey, Usman Khawaja, Jason Krejza and James Pattinson are the other players to be added to the contracts list, having all taken part in matches for Australia over the past 18 months. Alongside Cummins, Pattinson is considered one of the most promising fast bowling prospects in the country, and made his international debut in Bangladesh.
"James has tasted international cricket and we see him as a young man of immense talent who is made of the right stuff to succeed at the higher level," said Hilditch. "Patrick Cummins is an exceptional talent who has impressed with his opportunities to date for New South Wales and it will be very exciting to watch his progress.
"We're really all of the view that he's a potential champion for Australia and we're going to encourage that and look after him."
Cummins was shocked to receive a call from Hilditch, and later another from Clarke, as he came to terms with being so quickly in the national frame.
"I got a call from Michael Clarke so that was pretty exciting - I didn't have his phone number before, but now I've got it," Cummins told reporters at the SCG. "I'm still level-headed about it, trying to play for NSW whenever I can, whenever I get an opportunity. There's still plenty of quality bowlers out there and when they return from injury they probably deserve a spot ahead of me, so hopefully I can bowl well and keep that spot."
Apart from Katich, James Hopes, Andrew McDonald, Clint McKay, Marcus North, Shaun Tait and Adam Voges were also cut from the list, while Australia's incumbent Test spinner Michael Beer was not offered a contract though he remains in the selectors' plans.
"You shouldn't read too much into that," Hilditch said of Beer's absence. "Michael Beer and Steven O'Keefe are still very much in contention for Sri Lanka, even though they don't get a ranking. Because we now rank three forms of the game there are still players we rank very highly who are out of that contract list."
Cricket Australia contracts list 2011-12: Doug Bollinger, Michael Clarke, Patrick Cummins, Xavier Doherty, Callum Ferguson, Brad Haddin, Ryan Harris, John Hastings, Nathan Hauritz, Ben Hilfenhaus, Phillip Hughes, David Hussey, Michael Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Usman Khawaja, Jason Krejza, Brett Lee, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine, James Pattinson, Ricky Ponting, Peter Siddle, Steven Smith, Shane Watson, Cameron White.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo