End of the road for Fitzgerald, Johnson
The long and winding first-class journeys of South Australian batsmen David Fitzgerald and Ben Johnson appear over, following the announcement that they will not be offered state contracts for 2004-05.
South Australia will name their full squad on Monday but have revealed that Fitzgerald and Johnson will not be on the list.
"Both Ben and David have been solid contributors to South Australian cricket over many years, with outstanding individual performances throughout their careers," said Harvey Jolley, SA's general cricket manager. "[But] with the combination of our emerging talent and views for the future, they are not a part of our immediate plans."
Neither non-selection is particularly surprising. Fitzgerald, 31, batted 10 hours for a career-best unbeaten 202 against Tasmania last summer but averaged only 16 throughout his remaining six matches. The 30-year-old Johnson, although an occasional member of the Redbacks' one-day side, was not picked in first-class circles at all.
If this is the end of the road they finish with remarkably similar records. Johnson played two more first-class matches, 69 to 67, and averaged 0.22 runs per innings higher - 34.81 to 34.59.
Both, too, can be classed as underachievers of sorts. Fitzgerald, a right-hand opener and keen cutter who moved east from Western Australia in 1995, possessed an appetite for mammoth occupation but lacked consistency.
The left-handed Johnson began his career in a blaze of promise, amassing 81 and 168 against WA in his fifth first-class match at 21. In the ensuing nine seasons he managed only another eight hundreds, two of them in a fortnight in 2001-02, when he became the first man since Bill Lawry to carry his bat in consecutive matches in Australia. He was a member of SA's last Sheffield Shield-winning squad, way back in 1995-96, but missed out on the final.
Two rookie batsmen from last season, Ben Cameron and Callum Ferguson, have been awarded senior contracts. Cameron impressed observers in his three Pura Cup games while the 19-year-old Ferguson, a former Australian Under-19s vice-captain who has yet to taste first-class cricket, hit 58 from 50 balls against Victoria in an ING Cup match. Cullen Bailey, the 19-year-old Sturt legspinner, has signed a rookie contract.
The dropping of Fitzgerald and Johnson, together with last summer's premature retirement of the injury-stricken Chris Davies, marks the beginning of a substantial regeneration of South Australia's batting order. Both Cameron and Ferguson loom as instrumental figures this summer and beyond.