Marsh, Hughes contracted, Doolan left out
Alex Doolan has missed out on a Cricket Australia contract for 2014-15 despite being the incumbent No.3 in the Test team, while Shaun Marsh and Phillip Hughes have both been given deals. Cricket Australia has announced an 18-man contract list, down from 20 last year, with Ed Cowan, Patrick Cummins, Xavier Doherty, Ben Hilfenhaus, Clint McKay and Matthew Wade all left out having been contracted last year.
Doolan, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Usman Khawaja and Adam Voges had all been upgraded to full contracts during the year having made enough appearances for the national team, but all missed out on deals for next year. There were no additions from outside the group of contracted players, with Marsh, Steven Smith, Chris Rogers and Aaron Finch all holding on to their places having been upgraded throughout the year.
While most of the omissions were reasonably predictable, the absence of Doolan suggests that the selectors might look to Hughes or Marsh to fill the No.3 role when Australia next plays Test cricket, against Pakistan in the UAE in October. The fact that Hughes and Marsh are also considered ODI options may have helped their cause, given that Australia will host a World Cup during the next contract period.
Hughes was axed from the Test side during the unsuccessful Ashes campaign in England last year and has not worn the baggy green since, although he was part of the squad for the Test tour of South Africa and remains a prolific run scorer at domestic level. Marsh was recalled to the Test side in South Africa in spite of his lack of recent first-class runs and scored 148 in the win in Centurion, but was then dropped after making a pair in the next Test.
Doolan played all three Tests in South Africa and showed the kind of class that has appealed to observers of his Sheffield Shield form for Tasmania, but too often he squandered his starts and finished the trip averaging 31. John Inverarity, the national selector, said Doolan remained in the thoughts of the national selection panel (NSP) despite missing out on a contract.
"When we do the contracts we rank all the players for Tests, ODIs and T20 for performances over the last 12 months and expectation over the next 12 months. Both Phil Hughes and Shaun Marsh earned points for their ODI contributions over the last 12 months and that would have nudged them ahead of Alex there," Inverarity said. "It's for all three formats and Alex didn't win any for anything other than Tests, and Shaun and Phil would have points from that.
"Alex is very highly regarded, he's the incumbent No. 3. It's very early days for him, I think he's received an enormous amount of encouragement and had an opportunity when on standby for Shane Watson in Sydney, he played the three Tests in South Africa and we're anticipating he will do well in the future, he's the incumbent No. 3, and we're looking forward to seeing him do well and receive an upgrade."
The other player singled out by Inverarity as narrowly missing out on the 18-man group was Coulter-Nile, who has made himself a regular in the Twenty20 and one-day sides over the past year. The only contracted player who would be considered solely a short-form specialist was Finch, whose destructive batting at the top of the order in the T20 and ODI teams sits at odds with his struggle to perform for Victoria in the Sheffield Shield. George Bailey and Glenn Maxwell are likely to be more active in the short forms than Test cricket, although both men have worn the baggy green in the past 13 months.
Not surprisingly, Hilfenhaus and Cummins were cut having not represented Australia since 2012, while Cowan was unlikely to hold his deal having slipped out of the Test team after the first Ashes Test in England. McKay played 14 of a possible 16 ODIs since the current contract period began on July 1 last year but might face a challenge to retain his spot in the side, while Doherty has also fallen down the list. Inverarity said Cummins would be involved in the Australia A matches to be played in northern Australia over the winter months.
"He's an older young man now, we have full confidence in NSW to manage him, and I think Pat in working with various people including Dennis Lillee over the last year or so is now more independent than he was," he said. "And we've supported him for a couple of years. We couldn't justify including him in this year's list, but he remains verymuch to the forefront of our thinking, and we look forward to him getting fit and strong to play. I saw him bowl in the BBL final, he took 1 for 47 in his four overs but I thought he looked really good.
"I think we're all on the same page, a development in recent years has been CA working very closely and cohesively with the states, and there'll be a conversation around Pat with NSW, CA and particularly the medical people there. So he'll be well monitored and I'm sure the best interests of Pat will come to pass. CA will be announcing fairly soon an Australia A team, Pat will have some opportunities in that, and we'll attempt to give him the right amount of bowling in the north of Australia in July/August."
Khawaja's absence from the list was expected after he was axed from the Test team in England, while Wade's demotion might raise the prospect of another gloveman such as Tim Paine challenging him for the position as backup to Brad Haddin. Voges was a solid ODI performer during the year but missed out on a deal, although it would not be surprising if he won an upgrade over the summer with a World Cup around the corner.
The next contract period begins on July 1 this year and will include two Tests against Pakistan in the UAE, four Tests at home to India and a Test series away in the West Indies, and possibly the opening stages of the next Ashes series in England. The World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is the major limited-overs event on the calendar, scheduled to take place in February-March.
As for the future of the selection panel itself, Inverarity said he had not yet decided whether or not to carry on once his contract expires in June. It has been widely speculated that Inverarity will hand the selection reins over after an eventful three years. "My contract when I joined in November 2011 was for up to the end of June this year," he said. "In the coming weeks and months I will discuss with CA whether I will continue to play a role in the national selection panel, and that's where it is. It's yet to be finally decided."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here