Australian news June 7, 2011

Katich call a necessary evil

While Simon Katich has done nothing wrong, Australia's selectors needed to look to the future

Simon Katich can consider himself hard done by. Since his second coming as an international player three years ago, only England's Ashes hero Alastair Cook has made more Test runs than Katich. But his axing from Cricket Australia's contract list was a decision made not with the past in mind, but the future. And while it might seem unjust, it was the right call.

At times over the past few years, Andrew Hilditch and his panel have made Tony Abbott look progressive, so it's pleasing that the selectors now have at least one eye on the future. By embracing Usman Khawaja, Patrick Cummins and James Pattinson, they have shown they are serious about rebuilding after a disastrous Ashes campaign.

Marcus North is gone, as expected, and Katich is an unfortunate casualty, having missed the final three Tests due to injury. The Test team works and plans in Ashes cycles, and now is time to start thinking of the next battle. Today it's Katich, next year it could be Ricky Ponting or Michael Hussey, or both, who are phased out ahead of the 2013 Ashes.

Such is the fickle nature of sport that this time last year Katich seemed the safest of those three older batsmen. But in the past 12 months, he has averaged 32.83 and hasn't made a Test century. Hussey was one of Australia's few Ashes stars and importantly is also a key ODI player who the selectors believe still has a role to play.

The selectors also want to see if Ponting thrives after giving up the captaincy. His Test form has been poor, but as a 15-year veteran and record-breaking captain, he has earned some leeway. It all adds up to mean the end for Katich, with the selectors keen to avoid a synchronised exodus of three senior players, a la Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer in 2006-07.

By calling time on Katich, they have also increased the pressure on Phillip Hughes. Clearly the next in line to join Shane Watson at the top of the order, Hughes needs to lift after making 2, 12, 16, 23, 31 and 13 in his six innings when called in as the replacement for Katich during the Ashes. At 22, he is in Australia's long-term plans but should he keep failing, Usman Khawaja could comfortably step in to open with Watson.

Khawaja's promotion was arguably the least surprising detail of Australia's new contract list. The inclusion of Cummins, the teenage fast bowler from New South Wales, was much more unexpected, but given that he is currently sidelined by a back injury, the selectors must be careful not to ask too much of him in the immediate future.

It was also notable that Michael Beer, the incumbent Test spinner, was not offered a deal, while Xavier Doherty and Jason Krejza were signed up and Nathan Hauritz, out of favour during the Ashes, retained his contract. Beer and Krejza are both heading to Zimbabwe this month for an Australia A tour that will act as a virtual bowl-off for the August Test series against Sri Lanka. If the contract list is anything to go by, Krejza is the frontrunner.

The inclusion of the one-day allrounder John Hastings is clearly a straight swap for James Hopes, who has been cut, while Clint McKay has been overtaken by his younger Victoria team-mate Pattinson in the fast-bowling order of precedence. Andrew McDonald and Adam Voges were never likely to have their deals extended, and having confined himself to Twenty20, Shaun Tait effectively confirmed his own axing.

The one surprise in the batting set-up was that David Hussey secured a contract. Hussey is 33, but the selectors want him for ODIs and Twenty20s. Hussey might be on the wrong side of 30, but unlike Katich, he's on the right side of 35.

Hussey can go to bed tonight dreaming of playing for his country for another year, while Katich will begin to ponder his future. And the selectors have decided it's a future in baggy blue, not baggy green.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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