Ashes contenders miss out on CA contracts
Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja, Jackson Bird and Moises Henriques, all potential Ashes tourists, have been omitted from Cricket Australia's list of centrally contracted players for 2013-14. The initial list of players was expanded from last year's 17 to 20, the maximum allowable figure under the current MOU with the players union.
As has been the case for some time, multi-format players stand a better chance of earning the immediate financial security of a CA contract than all but the highest-ranked Test match specialists, something that counted against Bird and Khawaja in particular. In their places were the likes of George Bailey, Clint McKay and Xavier Doherty, all regulars in the ODI and Twenty20 teams.
While CA does not release the player rankings, it is believed that Mitchell Starc was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the extra money freed up by the retirements of Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting. However the selection of 20 players allowed the national selectors to broaden the spread of remuneration at a time when Australian cricket has fewer outstanding performers to call on than at any stage in recent years.
The selectors' concerns about the lack of batting depth available to them was confirmed by the inclusion of only six specialist batsmen among the 20. This included Bailey, who made only one first-class 50 all summer, and the vice-captain Shane Watson. Only the captain Michael Clarke could truly be said to have earned his batting keep over the past year.
"Jackson Bird, Moises Henriques, Usman Khawaja and Steve Smith were all very close to making this contract list and we expect them to take opportunities that are presented across formats to represent Australia and make a case for an upgrade to a CA contract, as the year unfolds," the national selector John Inverarity said.
"Of the 20 players on the 2013-14 contract list all currently hold a CA playing contract. The 17 players initially contracted for the 2012-13 season played a significant role in selections across the various formats during the season. Those upgraded to the contract list during the season all proved their worth.
"Phillip Hughes has made a lot of runs throughout the past 12 months and is a young player who we are looking to become a reliable and prolific run-scorer, while Ed Cowan worked hard in the last 12 months to earn an upgrade and the panel feel that he is deserving of selection on this list for the coming year.
"George Bailey has been one of our most successful ODI batsmen since he debuted in that format in March 2012. Clint McKay's success as an ODI player was reflected in him being awarded Australia's One Day Player of The Year at the Allan Border Medal.
"The National Selection Panel is very impressed by the manner in which James Faulkner has been performing and developing. He is a very competitive young man who consistently manages to have an impact on games with both bat and ball. Glenn Maxwell is a talented young player who has had opportunity invested in him. He is very aware that he needs to tighten his game and perform with greater impact and consistency."
Ryan Harris retained his contract despite not playing for Australia during the past year due to his elongated recovery from shoulder surgery. However his strong return to wicket-taking form with Queensland in the closing stages of the season had Inverarity enthusiastic about utilising Harris during the Ashes in England, albeit not in every Test.
"I think all of us got quite excited at the end of the season when he bowled here [in Perth], and then the final down in Hobart when he bowled very well," Inverarity said. "He's a very good bowler Ryan Harris. But at his stage it would be unlikely that he would be able to do all five Tests but we'll see how that goes.
"I spoke to Ryan just a day or two before he went to India, so he's feeling good and he'll be working very hard. He's mindful of the prospect of being in England for either or both of the Champions Trophy and the Ashes tour. He's certainly got that in his mind and working towards it."
As for the developing story of the legspinner Fawad Ahmed, Inverarity said that the selectors were waiting patiently for the outcome of Federal Government deliberations over his granting of an Australian passport.
"Fawad Ahmed is a player of significant interest to us, but we're just waiting quietly for his qualification and we just don't know when that's going to happen," Inverarity said. "So we'll respond when there is further information about that."
Apart from Michael Hussey and Ponting exiting the international game, David Hussey also lost his contract and will require an extraordinary resurgence in run-scoring form to regain his place over the next year.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here