Australia news June 22, 2012

Emerging batsmen must earn their stripes

George Bailey and Ed Cowan could be considered unlucky to have missed out on Cricket Australia contracts this year. But if they're good enough, it won't matter.
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The purpose of a central contract system is right there in the name. Central. The aim is to put on retainer the players expected to be central to the team's performances in the coming year. George Bailey and Ed Cowan could come to fit that description this season. If they do, they will be rewarded. They will also provide Australia with much-needed batting depth.

Neither man should view being left off Cricket Australia's contract list, which this year featured only six batsmen, as an insult. They are both new to international level. They may become long-term prospects. They may drift back to state cricket, as plenty have before them. Their fate, like that of all of Australia's young batsmen, is in their own hands. They can't ask fairer than that.

Simon Katich might disagree after his omission last year, but there is one undeniable truth about Cricket Australia's contract system. Eventually, the right players always earn a deal. Sometimes the wrong ones do as well. That is another matter.

But the right players, those who become key performers for Australia during a contract year, will be upgraded to a national contract. It is built into the system. Call it natural selection. Last year, Katich was not in Australia's plans, so there was no point signing him up. Others, Matthew Wade and Nathan Lyon for example, became regular internationals and were contracted mid-year. Simple.

To be upgraded to a national contract from outside the initial group, a player must accumulate 12 points based on a system where each Test appearance is worth five, an ODI is worth two and a T20 international earns one. Bailey is the country's Twenty20 captain, but has still only played nine times for Australia. If he can make himself a regular ODI player on top of his T20 duties, he will earn a contract.

Cowan has played Australia's past seven Tests. He has shown promise, but that is all. He will need more than the odd half-century and an average of 29 to make himself a viable long-term Test prospect. But if he is good enough to hold his place for three more Tests, he will be upgraded.

There are others in the same situation, notably Clint McKay, Daniel Christian and Peter Forrest. They are all likely to play enough games to be upgraded. But why not make them earn it? In the past, too many contracts have been awarded prematurely. Too many contracts have been awarded full stop.

Only 17 men have been handed deals for the coming year, down from 25. A less bloated list is no bad thing. England awarded only 13 central contracts last year, and their criteria for a mid-year upgrade is even tougher. They seem to be coping.

Now, players won't just make up the numbers. Remember Cullen Bailey, the young legspinner who was contracted in 2007? He did not play an international match that year, and hasn't come within cooee since. Adam Voges was handed a contract in 2007, 2008 and 2010, for the grand total of 15 ODIs and four T20s.

Not that this year's 17-man squad is perfect. Mitchell Johnson can count himself extremely fortunate to have been included. Presumably the selectors view him as a first-choice player in the ODI and T20 sides, for his Test bowling in recent times has been about as intimidating as his Movember moustache.

The retention of Brad Haddin is an indication that the selectors either believe he is still the No.1 wicketkeeper ahead of Matthew Wade or are yet to make up their minds. After a disappointing year in both Test and one-day cricket, there would have been justification for leaving Haddin off the list.

Clearly, Ricky Ponting is not going anywhere in a hurry. His outstanding series against India bought him more time in the Test side, although a poor tour of the West Indies followed. The selectors want him around and he wants to be around. He is likely to be part of the Test side for at least another summer.

Ponting is one of only six specialist batsmen given contracts this year, along with Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, David Warner, Michael Hussey and David Hussey. There is no reason the split between bowlers and batsmen should be more even - it is a contract list, not a starting XI - but the imbalance does indicate that John Inverarity and his fellow selectors want more from the wider batting group.

That is far from ideal a year out from the Ashes, but nor is it a surprise. This is a team that in the past year has relied on four men - Clarke, Ponting, Warner and Michael Hussey - for more than half its Test runs. It is a side that was bowled out for 47 in a Test match in November.

Young batsmen like Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh and Phillip Hughes have let Test opportunities slip over the past year, while Cowan, Bailey and Forrest are still proving themselves. There are others showing promise at state level - Joe Burns, Liam Davis and Rob Quiney, to name a few - and it is up to whoever is given a chance to grab it.

Australia's young bowlers have been doing that over the past 12 months. It's no wonder there are seven fast men and two spinners in the contract list. This year it's time for the batsmen to make themselves indispensable. Cowan and Bailey would be a good start.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Christopher on June 25, 2012, 12:36 GMT

    @katandthat3.I have a high regard for the game that Hughes played up to the training camp pre Lions game '09.What it lacked in text book aesthetics was overcome with a unique genius.His unusual grip gave far greater ability to keep the ball on the ground & control direction.His back foot to leg trigger movement closed his front shoulder to side on & created weight transfer into shots.It allowed him to cover swing,movement & bounce with the same bat swing,sometimes flat batting the ball down the ground.His record to that point was extraordinary & worthy of the considerable accolades including 4 scores over 190.Its more than probable Nielsen dismantled it causing all subsequent difficulties.An article from DeCosta alludes to it as does Hughes himself.Nielsen maintained he had planned for Watson in his Ashes blue print & hadnt expected Hughes success in SA.His purpose was to match the Eng lineup style for style & needed an all-rounder to match Flintoff.I regard Hughes as a future champion

  • Garry on June 24, 2012, 9:58 GMT

    Whoops, I meant to put Hughes in my list too. Just keeping knocking out the runs boys, any format any competition, it all helps.

  • Christopher on June 23, 2012, 12:12 GMT

    @Winsome..You have my sympathies.I thoroughly agree.I also think that this system of contracting is incomplete.Surely if you're going to build a points system into those who play for Australia regarding contracting,there should also be a commensurate one for those who operate in Shield regarding selection.Its certainly something that I have advocated in the past,particularly during the dark days of Hilditch and Nielsen.Otherwise,the initial national selection will remain as arbitrary as ever.Hence,the incapacity to pursue points for a national contract.Comments by Invererity regarding his support for Cowan,despite a lack of results,suggests that such a Shield based system is imperative.A similar system could be developed for the results of those players while in national service,thus removing the emotive and leaving the factual to dictate selections.Cricket has entered an era where an ocean of information is available to all which should render operations professional and dispassionate

  • Rahul on June 23, 2012, 10:14 GMT

    Great article outilining the simple fact, Cowan needs to get more runs as an average of 28 is not good enough. This gives other youngsters such as Forrest, Maddinson, Khawaja and Burns the opportunity to establish their place in the Aussie team. The fight for batting spots will be very interesting.

  • Allan on June 23, 2012, 8:27 GMT

    @Winsome very well said, finally some sense written about Cowan, with an average in the 20s he doesn't deserve the contract, and it opens the door for other batsman such as Hughes, Khawaja and Forrest to win the top order spots. Those who score the most in shield will get the spot and Cowan simply doesn't deserve it yet. Most aussie fans would love to see the likes of Forrest, Khawaja and Mitch Marsh do well this shield season. Forrest and KHawaja would add very well to our top order.

  • Mariam on June 23, 2012, 8:25 GMT

    Very good article by Coverdale, unlike other writers such as Brettig who is biased towards Cowan, Coverdale states the facts that selectors are not certain on who the next crop of batsman are yet with Cowan, Forrest, Khawaja and Hughes given a chance to win the batting spots with shield runs. I predict that Forrest and Khawaja will score the most in this shield season and take the top order spots before the Ashes.

  • Tim on June 23, 2012, 6:58 GMT

    Batsmen must earn their stripes but a bowler who has played 1 match gets a contract. Double standards just cos these guys are as glamorous.

  • Rajesh on June 23, 2012, 3:55 GMT

    Limiting the number of central contracts is a welcome change; although not all on the list could be termed as a 'core' around which the 'playing 11' will be selected. With quite a bit of cricket already planned for the summer ahead, talented players like Hughes and Khawaja (& many more) will keep knocking on the doors and possibly prove their worth with whatever opportunities they are offered. The team still doesn't have a stable top-order, and no ready replacement for Ponting. So still lot of 'openings' in the current 'core'. It is practically not possible to have the 'playing-11' selected solely from the contracted 17. So there are always going to be 1 or 2 (maybe more) 'non-contracted' players in any game. The 12-point system automatically takes care of upgrading the player to the 'contracted' list, but there should also be 'point system' that takes the players off the 'contracted list' with -ve points assigned for each match the player is 'not selected'. e.g. Test -2, ODI -1.

  • Randolph on June 23, 2012, 2:08 GMT

    Cowan never deserved a contract, and rightfully didn't get one, but why ON EARTH did Haddin get one? He won't play a match for us again. What an absolute joke!!!

  • Garry on June 22, 2012, 23:48 GMT

    Makes sense to cut the list and make players earn their contract. This would be Haddin's last contract as I'd imagine they'd be keen to have Wade and Paine playing international cricket more often. As mentioned, it's up to the batting talent out there to put the runs on the board. Bailey, Khawaja, Marsh, Maddinson, Cowan, Burns, Quiney, Davis, Ferguson, Voges, Forrest, Smith, Klinger, Lynn, Patterson. Wouldn't count Dave Hussey making his test debut either, still concerned about our batting, we have the talent just need to see some big runs. The UK ODI's, A tour, T20 WC, Paki series, Home series, Indian Tour and Ashes means some good opportunites for anyone who wants to make a go of it. Can't wait.

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