Australia 2020-21 central contracts: who comes in and who goes out?
Briefly, at least, they'll be a chance to talk about something a little more normal on Thursday when Cricket Australia announces the new round of central contracts for the 2020-21 season. The finances behind the deals will likely still depend on how the next few months unfold and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it is a nod to the next season even though that remains shrouded in uncertainty. Here's a rundown of who could be in and who could go out.
Pat Cummins, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Alex Carey, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Glenn Maxwell, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine, James Pattinson, Jhye Richardson, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, David Warner, Adam Zampa
The last 12 months
There were the twin pillars of the World Cup and the Ashes being planned for this time last year - the Ashes were retained in England for the first time in 18 years and there was a World Cup semi-final appearance. Given where the team had lifted itself from, that could be considered a significant success. The home summer was a walkover, unbeaten in all matches before the ODIs against New Zealand were curtailed, but one-dayers overseas were tougher with a 5-1 loss-win record. The Test side was starting to look formidable with just a couple of question marks over the batting and finally proper attention was being paid to T20Is.
The next 12 months
These are unprecedented times and no one really knows how it will play out. But all we can do at the moment is look at the calendar, which, like last year, has two major events: the T20 World Cup and further progress towards the World Test Championship final. Both remain very uncertain to take place as planned, but India at home followed by South Africa away in Test matches is a mouthwatering prospect if the game is able to resume later in the year.
Who could miss out?
Nathan Coulter-Nile - Lost his place in the ODI side after the World Cup, during which he hit a crucial 92 against West Indies but struggled with the ball. He could yet return to the T20I mix, but his ODI days look numbered as planning turns to 2023.
Usman Khawaja - Was dropped midway through the Ashes and could not get his place back during the home summer. Could still turn the selectors' heads with a mass of runs but will likely be back on Queensland's books.
Peter Handscomb - Made just one appearance - the World Cup semi-final as an injury replacement - across the contract period after being unlucky to miss the initial squad for that tournament. Still has time to make another run at the international level so being cut this year wouldn't be curtains.
Marcus Harris - Having been an incumbent opener when the previous list was named, he missed the start of the Ashes and then, like most openers, struggled when recalled and was dropped for the home summer against Pakistan and New Zealand. He will need to deal in weight of runs for Victoria for another chance.
Shaun Marsh - At 37, his international career appears over after not playing throughout the home summer following a World Cup campaign ended by a broken arm in the nets.
Marcus Stoinis - Endured a poor World Cup, couldn't make a push in red-ball cricket, and also dropped out of the T20I mix despite a prolific BBL campaign. The white-ball still offers him an international future but he will likely have to fight his way back.
Who could come in?
Marnus Labuschagne - does this one need explaining?
Matthew Wade - Played every Test over the last contract period after being recalled for the Ashes where he scored two centuries. Still not entirely convincing as a long-term option after a stop-start home summer but he's also back in the ODI and T20I plans.
Mitchell Marsh - One Marsh out, another one in? Mitchell didn't do himself any favours when he punched the dressing-room wall and missed most of the home summer, but he took five wickets in the last Ashes Test and returned to the white-ball sides earlier this year.
Joe Burns - Will the selectors show their faith in David Warner's opening partner? He didn't quite make an unanswerable case in the summer, averaging 32, but the revolving door needs to stop.
Ashton Agar - Enjoyed an impressive return to the T20I side, with 15 wickets at 13.53 including a hat-trick against South Africa, and was also back in the ODI side albeit with less success. Being a T20 World Cup year could work in his favour, the doubts around the tournament notwithstanding.
Kane Richardson - Like Agar, Richardson has been a key cog in the T20I unit as Australia firmly focused on planning for the World Cup. Offers back-up for the ODI side as well.
Nicole Bolton, Nicola Carey, Ash Gardner, Rachael Haynes, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Delissa Kimmince, Meg Lanning, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Elyse Villani, Georgia Wareham
The last 12 months
Missions accomplished. It was a triumphant year for the women with a comprehensive Ashes series victory in England followed by the heady scenes at the MCG when the T20 World Cup was won in front of 86,000 people it what was one of the last major sporting events before the lockdown. The depth of the squad was tested during the World Cup due to injuries to Tayla Vlaeminck and Ellyse Perry, but after an early wobble - and the rain that cleared the SCG just in time - they came through with flying colours.
The next 12 months
The 50-over World Cup is the big prize this time, a trophy that eluded Australia in 2017 when they exited in the semi-final against India on one of the most difficult days of Meg Lanning's career. However, despite being ten months away, there is already some doubt as to whether it will be staged as planned in New Zealand because of the knock-on impact of the pandemic. There will be one extra contracted handed out this year, so 15 compared to last season's 14. Will be interesting to see if any onus switches away from allrounders back to specialists with the focus on 50 overs.
Who could miss out?
Nicole Bolton - Having featured on the Ashes tour, Bolton did not play during the home season after being unavailable for the West Indies tour, although she wouldn't have been part of the T20 plans. Was the leading run-scorer in the WNCL and with this being a one-day World Cup year, it could yet work in her favour alongside an impressive ODI record.
Elyse Villani - Hasn't featured for over a year having been unused during the Ashes series and was dropped for the West Indies trip that followed.
Who could come in?
Tayla Vlaeminck - Cruelly injured on the eve of the T20 World Cup, Vlaeminck remains a potential spearhead of Australia's attack for years to come and could develop into the fastest bowler in the women's game.
Annabel Sutherland - The allrounder was the surprise inclusion for the T20 World Cup and showed her nerve by helping earn a Super Over in the tri-series match against England. There is belief in the Australia camp that she can add significant pace as she develops.
Erin Burns - Called up for the tour of the West Indies last year and was part of the World Cup squad without getting a game. Impressed in the one-day games against India A in December, but may remain on the fringes.
Molly Strano - Added to the World Cup after Vlaeminck's injury, Strano ended up bowling the first over of the tournament barely 24 hours later. Hugely consistent at domestic level and able to operate at various stages of an innings.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo