Overlooked players try to keep the faith
Australia's selectors aren't the only ones who will spend the winter wondering about leaps of faith after naming their 25-man contract list. The release of the 2010-11 squad will cause some twitching for Andrew Hilditch and his panel during the next 12 months as well as forcing some of the overlooked players to fret over their next steps.
Nathan Bracken, David Warner and David Hussey sit in the uncertain queue after missing out on deals ranging from A$200,000 for the bottom earner to an average of $1.5m for the top five. In 2008 Bracken was ranked the world's No.1 one-day bowler and was fifth on the list during his 116th ODI in September. He has not bowled for Australia since then and returned late in the season after surgery to his right knee.
At 32, he has a couple of years left to impress the national selectors, but given the strength of the fast-bowling ranks he might consider it's not worth the extreme effort. With his control and pace variations, Bracken is an attractive option to Twenty20 outfits and would be valued as a member of the growing group of short-form freelancers.
Warner and Hussey suffer from being restricted to international Twenty20 duty and there are concerns, including from the Australian Cricketers' Association, that the lack of incentives for these types of specialists could end in them abandoning their domestic commitments for lucrative international spoils. Both Warner and Hussey have been tried in one-day internationals without sustained success, which restricts their attractiveness to the selectors.
Players are rated between one and 20 on their overall limited-overs ability, not just their T20 exploits, before that score is combined with a Test ranking. It's almost impossible to make the list while only appearing in the game's newest format, although Shaun Tait achieved it with help from his one-day potential.
There are 25 contracts handed out, but once someone from outside the squad accrues 12 playing points they are automatically upgraded from their state agreement to Cricket Australia's minimum base rate of A$200,000 a year. A Test is worth five credits and marks are also awarded for ODIs, Twenty20 internationals, overseas tours and domestic 12th man duties. By the end of the 2009-10 season there were 31 contract holders, so there is scope for a quick return for the spurned.
Warner and David Hussey will be on the verge of qualifying for an upgrade if Australia reach the World Twenty20 final in the Caribbean next month and they play every game. More T20s are scheduled in England in July that will also beef up their tally. Hilditch said Hussey was unlucky to miss out and indicated he would have a more convincing argument if he added to his 23 ODIs.
There was no mention of Warner and his case is complicated by him not being a first-choice member of New South Wales' Sheffield Shield team, even though he is an essential member of their one-day and T20 outfits. Those circumstances limit his domestic earnings as well and have contributed to him considering switching states.
He is only 23 and wants to play Tests, but is part of the new generation that has the choice between a decade of potentially fruitless searching for national recognition and instant financial security in the T20 leagues. The selectors don't see Warner as essential at the moment and if the snubs continue he is someone who could switch focus to the overseas engagements.
At the other end is Stuart Clark, a respected fast man who has taken 94 wickets in 24 Tests, but hasn't played since Australia lost the Ashes in August. Clark knows he is unlikely to figure in the national plans again and at 34 his body is worn down to the extent he is not going to Kent for a season of county cricket. Older bowlers aren't told they are finished by selectors in public, but are encouraged instead to keep going next summer. It usually means the same thing.
While Clark misses a golden handshake for his toil over five years, Brett Lee deserves his sunset deal after such valued long service in 76 Tests. Lee's body has let him down in the past couple of years and his latest comeback from elbow surgery isn't going smoothly.
This is the biggest risk taken by Hilditch and his panel, although it is not the loss of money that is the danger. Lee's ranking has tumbled due to the elimination of his Test ranking so he is among the lower earners. The problem with Lee, who is already in the World Twenty20 squad, is whether he remains good enough to trouble international batsmen.
Early in a comeback is not the best time to judge an elite bowler, but in three IPL matches for Kings XI Punjab he has figures of 10.3-0-111-0. "We're hoping he will make the recovery we expect and get back to his best," Hilditch said. "So I suppose it is a leap of faith, but a leap of faith in a player who's taken 300-odd Test wickets and been one of our best."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo