Talented wicketkeeper-batsman Tim Paine has made history today by becoming Australian domestic cricket's youngest-ever contracted player.
As part of the initial group of nineteen players signed by state team Tasmania for the 2001-02 domestic season, 16-year old Paine has become one of the first beneficiaries of the introduction to the game of a rookie contract system.
In announcing its initial list of seventeen fully contracted players and two rookies, the Tasmanians have elected largely to retain their faith in the squad that last season carried them to a third-placed finish in the Pura Cup and produced their best Mercantile Mutual season in recent memory. It's a balanced squad that contains six batsmen, six bowlers, five all-rounders and two wicketkeepers.
They have also still left themselves room to move to re-sign the likes of Mark Atkinson, Mark Colegrave or Ben Targett, the three players from last season's list who have thus far been overlooked for new deals. Although local conjecture has it that it is more likely that their attention will be focused in the short term upon luring Western Australian Michael Dighton, Queensland's Matthew Pascoe, and/or the ACT's Andrew James to the state.
All-rounders Brad Thomas and Adam Polkinghorne, batsman Graeme Cunningham, and fast bowler Shane Jurgensen would also be likely to come under serious consideration following appearances in the senior team last summer.
So far, the only new name to be added the core of fully contracted players is outstanding young all-rounder Shane Watson. Having moved to the state from Queensland midway through 2000-01, Watson had not been tied to an official contract before he made the decision last month to sign a three-year deal with the Tigers. The remaining sixteen on the list - including Gerard Denton, who is in the midst of embarking on another comeback following the onset of a succession of debilitating back injuries - have all previously been signed by the state.
To that end, it is Paine's selection which serves as the most eye-catching facet of this announcement.
By any measure, the teenager already has a glittering list of accomplishments behind him. He has accumulated first grade experience at - not to mention a first grade century for - the University club in Hobart. He has also captained his state at Under-15 and Under-17 level. He became a member of its Under-19 team at the age of just fifteen, and has been the vice-captain of the Australian under-17 side.
But his official inclusion among Tasmania's elite core of players at such a young age is arguably the most exciting step of all.
The state's selectors are understood to have no inclination to promote Paine to their first eleven in the immediate future. Nor do they see him as a substitute for Sean Clingeleffer, their current first-choice wicketkeeper and a brilliantly adept young gloveman in his own right. But his selection as one of the first beneficiaries of the rookie contract system offers a clear indication of Tasmania's intention to use the new programme to provide encouragement to players who may otherwise have been unable to win formal recognition from the state's senior administrators and coaches.
Under the direction of Chief Executive Officer David Johnston, the Tasmanian Cricket Association has been a strong supporter of the introduction of the rookie concept - a system designed to assist the states recruit and retain previously unsigned players under the age of 23. Its choice of 19-year old batsman George Bailey, like Paine a multi-talented sportsman, is another shrewd selection in that it is now likely to help convince the Launceston teenager to devote his sporting focus exclusively to cricket.
The Tigers have until 29 September to fully finalise their new squad.
The list of players with Tasmanian state contracts for 2001-02 is: Sean Clingeleffer, Jamie Cox, Gerard Denton, Michael Di Venuto, Andrew Downton, Andrew Dykes, Brett Geeves, Dene Hills, Scott Kremerskothen, Daniel Marsh, Scott Mason, Todd Pinnington, David Saker, Shannon Tubb, Shane Watson, Damien Wright, Shaun Young.
Rookie contracts: George Bailey, Tim Paine.
ACB contract: Ricky Ponting.