Cricket Australia contracts 2013-14 April 3, 2013

Test players deserve CA contract security

In its current form, Australia's list of central contracts will only push young players away from Tests and towards T20 as the source of their security

On the occasion of the 2000th Test match, between England and India at Lord's in 2011, Australia's captain Michael Clarke spoke bluntly about how the five-day game could best be preserved. "Governing bodies must prioritise player performance and payment in Test cricket," he said. "The future of Test cricket relies on the investment in continuing to make it the pinnacle of the sport. It requires all the skills of the other two forms of the game, but over five days."

A little less than two years on from Clarke's apt summary, the release of Cricket Australia's list of centrally contracted players reflects the fact that in a world tilting increasingly towards T20, the incentive for a young player to press with conviction for a Test career remains pitifully weak. Not only is there more money to be found in the T20 pot of gold, there is apparently more security to be gained from CA by being a fringe ODI and T20 player instead of being a genuine contender for the Test side.

Over a 12-month period that will feature not only ten Ashes Tests across back-to-back series in England and Australia, but also a Test assignment in South Africa, the players granted the financial security of an upfront contract include Glenn Maxwell, Xavier Doherty, Clint McKay, George Bailey and Brad Haddin. All are likely to figure for the national team over the next year, but they are as likely to hold the fate of the Ashes in their hands as India are to accept the DRS.

By contrast, Jackson Bird, Usman Khawaja and Steve Smith were missing despite making staunch efforts to establish themselves as Test performers. Last year, Ed Cowan was similarly ignored, while David Hussey won what was surely the last of numerous CA deals over the past decade without once playing a Test. In Maxwell's case, his contract provides the cream on top of an IPL cake that has reaped $1 million for what can only be described as potential.

Doherty, McKay, Bailey and Haddin all have decent claims to a central contract, but are theirs stronger than those of Bird, Khawaja and Smith? It would be exceedingly difficult to argue in the affirmative. In India, Doherty was found wanting as a Test bowler for the second and likely last time, while McKay and Bailey's chances of graduating from their current status as short-format operators were cruelled over the summer by injury and muddled form respectively.

Provided they keep their ODI and T20 places, McKay and Bailey will be on the cusp of an upgrade as early as the Champions Trophy in June anyway. Haddin, meanwhile, is steeped as deeply in the traditions of Australian cricket as anybody on the list, now that Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey have gone, and as such he is likely to be a priceless Ashes asset. But it is doubtful he would have complained about earning a contract, just as he earned his international recalls over summer.

The scope for upgrades provides the most sound logic for not awarding deals to the likes of Khawaja and Smith. There is little doubt that under Australian cricket's current state of batting struggle, the selectors are in no hurry to reward mediocrity, nor to hand out contracts to the sort of speculative names that used to fill out the final six or so spots on the old 25-man list before it was cut back to 17-20 under the current MOU. Batsmen are also more likely to earn their spots given they are less likely to be rotated out if performing: a contract upfront is a fairer result for a bowler playing three of five Ashes Tests than a batsman fit for the whole series.

Yet the most important element of the contract list is not its number, nor its ranking of players, as much as sections of the media like to debate the "winners and losers". Rather it is all in the timing. A player who knows he is CA-contracted in April has the financial security behind him to plan his year, so he has the best chance of performing when the national call-up does come. A contract should provide the remunerative encouragement to spend as much time as necessary preparing for the five-day game, while ignoring the excesses of domestic T20 japes as much as possible. Loyalty to loyalty.

In some cases, this has already happened. Apart from Clarke, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc provide the best examples of players responding intelligently to a secure place in the national set-up by preparing as judiciously as possible for international duty. Siddle is perhaps the world's highest profile player not signed to any T20 team whatsoever, while Starc gave up the chance of a pay-day likely to have been as inflated as Maxwell's by keeping himself out of the IPL auction, safe in the knowledge that CA would reward him.

A player who knows he is CA-contracted in April has the financial security behind him to plan his year so he has the best chance of performing when the national call-up does come.

Pat Cummins' case is also worth noting. Plenty have already sneered at his retention of a contract despite having gone through his second consecutive home summer without bowling a single ball. However, his place in CA's plans for the future has been subjected to some thinking in recent times; Pat Howard, John Inverarity and others realise he may be damaged irreparably if pushed too soon. Cummins' contract means CA can manage his return from injury and the evolution of his bowling action, while also working at ensuring that when he does go to the IPL it will be after a career as fruitful as Brett Lee's, not brief as Shaun Tait's.

Nevertheless, Starc, Siddle, Clarke and Cummins are minority cases in an area in which CA have an ability to prove their desire to return Australia's Test team to No. 1 in the world. Without a central contract, Khawaja, Smith and Bird are freer to take any number of the many pathways down which a cricketer might travel to secure an income. The foundation of the Caribbean Premier League now means there are T20 competitions sprouting in every one of the ICC's Full Member countries, all harbouring club impresarios eager to recruit international talent.

Whatever be the reasons for splashing money around on players as experienced as Ponting or as unfinished as Maxwell, it can be guaranteed that the betterment of Australia's Test team, and the return of the Ashes, are not among them. So it is essential that CA work further with the Australian Cricketers Association to ensure that a central contract provides the clearest possible incentive for players to become not ODI battlers or T20 scramblers but Test performers. Clarke himself would hope for nothing less.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Phil on April 6, 2013, 12:01 GMT

    Is the real problem the contract system? I was thinking about this from another angle and if players can force their way into a team from outside the contract fold, why have the contract system? Pay for play. Could the money on offer be affecting performance in a similar way to NRL/AFL players losing form after signing long term contracts? Interesting questions to think about, but regardless the more i think about this the more i think that guys such as Khawaja shouldn't worry about this too much as they will get a contract upgrade through good performances in the coming year, the key is for him to get a chance so he can show his stuff which he hasn't been given this season. Bird despite the fact that he should have got a contract did get test matches this season and did very well in them.

  • Sal on April 5, 2013, 7:43 GMT

    Well written article by Mr Brettig!

    Regardless of what the T20 and IPL lovers think, Test cricket is the pinnacle of this great sport.

    In my opinion both Bird and Khawaja deserved CA contracts.

  • Ken on April 5, 2013, 7:17 GMT

    Jackson Bird. Two tests. One man of the match. 11 wickets. Less than 20 average with ball. First class bowling average less than 17. Why no contract? More proof these people who select have to go. BTW. Test cricket is favourite for me but I have not watched a T20 or 50 over match for so long it is ridiculous. Picking Test teams on form from these forms of the game has never been a reliable way to get a good test team on the park. Set up cricket like rugby, with people who play sevens and people who play the longer form. As for Australian first class cricket - set up a joint provincial competition with three sides from NZ, eight from Australia (NSW and Victoria Country) and explore possibility of playing these games at venues outside the main cities where crowds will actually attend; such as Ballarat, Bendigo, Newcastle, Woolongong, Mount Gambier, Dubbo, Orange, Albury - you get the idea!

  • Dummy4 on April 5, 2013, 7:16 GMT

    @ Ken McCarron .... why would anyone not support Khawaja.

    As for why there are so few Queenslanders, I think it is a valid question. Especially when you reckon that "other states wouldn't stand a chance in the various forms of the game if all the NSW guys played every match."

    Queensland flogged a full strength NSW Team back in November 2012.

  • Christopher on April 5, 2013, 5:15 GMT

    I have maintained that since no later than 2008, CA put plans in place to install T20 as the main format & decrease the appeal of traditional cricket. After years of baffling selections and non-selections that were as arbitrary as they were destructive, the great residual wealth of playing experience in guys such as Rogers, Katich, Hodge and David Hussey have finally admitted defeat and mostly moved on. Decades of supreme success between them were ignored or dismissed on a whim. It left the lesser ranks to wonder by what measure they would make the Test team. Finally Hayden, while a CA Board member said publicly, what the wealth of available evidence proclaimed,'That they had no investment in traditional cricket.' Not satisfied with a passive role, they changed the use of all the successful institutions and 2nd eleven diluting their effectiveness, then publicly undermined curators, Test & local support and the Shield to the point of not attending the final. This is who CA really are.

  • Sutanu on April 5, 2013, 2:29 GMT

    People should just accept that Test cricket is dead instead of trying to convince themselves and others otherwise by just repeating over and over "Test is the best". People don't have the patience to sit around for 5 days watching endless well lefts and forward defensive strokes for a "thrilling" draw. Just end it already.

  • Mariam on April 5, 2013, 0:30 GMT

    AmithS i don't think anyone denies he has a good attitude and great temparement for test cricket, i am sure we won't be having this discussion in a year as Khawaja will be a key batsman for us in the ashes.The problem at the moment is the scent of fear in the air. Personally I enjoyed the days of Captain Grumpy, Swervin' Mervin and the 5ft Tasmanian with the flare pants. You never knew if we were going to grab the game by the short and curlies or if we were heading for a hiding. We seem to be back to those days though with a fan base with expectations which are more closely aligned with the lofy heights of Warne, Waugh and Ponting.

  • Tim on April 4, 2013, 23:51 GMT

    I agree that T20 should not play a part in central contracts. And that of the two other formats, weighting should be given to Test value but first choice 50 over players have a place on the contract list as well. T20 specialists can earn big money without a central contract, and if they get injured who really gives a toss. It might hurt the national T20 team, but again, who cares about T20 results.

    This isn't so much a problem of the selectors, though, as it is of the rules they are told to operate under. Giving Cummins a contract so that CA can manage him more directly and pull him from T20 whenever necessary is a good move. While I don't think he has earned a contract, his comeback from injury could be severely hampered if he was open slather to play anywhere and everywhere. (That said, CA's own player management seems more dangerous in terms of injury than the average warzone.)

  • Andrew on April 4, 2013, 23:31 GMT

    @Jo Britto - some good points. I actually don't think shelf lives reduced for average cricketers. There is a living to be earned on the lessor 20/20 Leagues in SL, Bang, Zim & WI (even NZ). Maybe you meant as FC cricketers? I think you'll find that there are "Blue" contracts, it's just that they are not flashed about, but it is not directly aligned to Tests, but all forms, so that would be a good adjustement. I 101% agree with you on point #5. Sutherland lost me a couple of years ago when in response to Clarke having a late dinner during a Test match (no alcohol involved), he said that cricketers shuld be behave professionally like the FOOTBALL CODES! What planet has HE been living on? Then there has been dribble after dribble - he has to go! Said before - absolute command of Ozzy cricket should go to the Great Man in Beige! ALL decisions should be run by Sir Richie, from what Lunch the cricketers get fed, to scheduling tours. If it gets an OK from RB, it's alright by me!!!!

  • Suman on April 4, 2013, 22:50 GMT

    @JAH123 on (April 4, 2013, 3:17 GMT) : thats a great idea and might just be the solution to this mess. Also, I guess the NSP's obsession of finding batters who can play equally well across all three formats is making it worse.