June 22, 2012

Why are Gillespie and Wagner missing?

The World Twenty20 seems to have been the priority in New Zealand's contracts list - never mind that there are 11 Tests in the next 12 months

It's odd that in what will be New Zealand's heaviest year (July 2012 to June 2013) of Test cricket, two players in the fringes of the squad have been left out of the contracts list. Mark Gillespie and Neil Wagner are close to being first-choice Test recruits, or at least putting pressure on Chris Martin and Doug Bracewell.

Gillespie's venom on recall last summer against South Africa was welcome. His form included innings hauls of 5 for 59 and 6 for 113 in the final two Tests.

He is intimidating but injury-prone. His current ankle strain and the fact that he is closing in on 33 may have clouded the selectors' thinking. However, that did not hinder the retention of 33-year-olds Jacob Oram and Kyle Mills. Both played their last Tests in 2009 and have also had well-documented injury problems.

It is also a concern that when asked to reveal one thing fans don't know about him, Oram, in an interview with ESPNcricinfo, said: "I'd probably rather be at home with my son, my family and my dog right now than touring the world playing cricket."

National selection manager Kim Littlejohn has proclaimed the mentoring ability of Mills and Oram to younger players, but whether this ranks as a selection clincher is debatable, with the likes of Daniel Vettori, Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor already in the various set-ups. Players on the list are ranked one to 20 and paid annual retainers. The highest-ranked earns $181,000, plus match payments, while No. 20 gets $73,000.

Wagner's eligibility has been anticipated, having proven himself a penetrative wicket-taker for Otago. He topped the Plunket Shield table for the last two seasons, accumulating 51 and 46 first-class wickets respectively.

Trent Boult also pipped Gillespie and Wagner to a contract, despite only being named in the Test squad for the West Indies. However, at 22, he has already taken eight wickets in his first three Tests. A good case can be made to keep him close to the five-day action. In contrast, Tim Southee hasn't been included in the Test squad for the West Indies tour but has shown the potential at international level over the past five seasons to warrant a top 20 deal.

The selectors' emphasis on the World Twenty20 seems myopic, with the short-term glory it would bring, compared to an elevated Test status. Abridged-format allrounders James Franklin and Andrew Ellis make the contract cut, too, with Franklin allowed to skip the West Indies tour to concentrate on shorter-form matches with Essex. However, if New Zealand players do perform in that arena it could ease their entry into the IPL and guarantee further financial security.

The last time New Zealand played more Tests in a calendar year, 12, was in 2001-02, when the players' association was created and contracts became part of the cricketing landscape.

Andrew Alderson is cricket writer at New Zealand's Herald on Sunday