Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo
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Australia's selectors have outlined their plans for the Ashes and next year's World Cup after retaining faith in their recent influx of emerging talent. Andrew Hilditch's panel dropped a couple of senior bowlers in Stuart Clark and Nathan Bracken, but gave full-time contracts to the fresh quicks Ryan Harris and Clint McKay for 2010-11.
Steven Smith, the exciting allrounder from New South Wales, wins his first spot in the 25-man list while Tasmania's Tim Paine has replaced Graham Manou as the back-up keeper. Andrew McDonald seems fortunate to hold his place, although he will come into contention for the tour of England, and Callum Ferguson, the South Australia batsman, is retained despite not playing since a knee reconstruction in October. Shaun Tait remains in favour while David Hussey misses out, and Brad Hodge's first-class retirement officially ended his remote chances of another deal.
Clark has not represented his country since the Ashes defeat at The Oval in August and Bracken spent much of the season out following knee surgery. "It is disappointing for Stuart Clark and Nathan Bracken who have not received contracts," Hilditch said. "Both Stuart and Nathan have fantastic records for Australia and not renewing their contracts was a very hard decision. The reality is that other bowlers have seized the opportunity over the last six months in both Test and limited-overs cricket. I am sure Nathan and Stuart will look to start next season well and force their way back into the Australian side."
While the rankings remain confidential, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson should have filled the top four places for retainers of around A$1.5 million in the contract period beginning on July 1. It is a big leap for Watson, who has become an essential player in all three forms after securing his Test spot as an opener during the Ashes tour. Since then he has scored 926 runs at 54.47 and taken 13 wickets in 10 matches, while also being an important asset in the one-day and Twenty20 teams.
Brett Lee's ranking has dropped dramatically after his Test retirement, while Doug Bollinger and Harris have stepped up from the fringes after their strong displays in the five-day outfit. "The Australian side is very much in the final stages of its preparation for ... the Ashes series in Australia and the World Cup for 50-over cricket in India," Hilditch said. "The contract list has a good blend of experience and youth, and recognises the very strong performances of the Australian side in Test and limited-overs cricket this summer."
The selectors rate the players from one to 20 in both Test and limited-overs sections, with the numbers combined to achieve an overall ranking. Five players qualified for fixed contracts by finishing in the top six of each list and will earn an average of $1.5m over the next year, including all game fees. The 25th-ranked man receives a retainer of $200,000 and the amounts rise incrementally. Additional marketing contracts allow the players to collect another six-figure sum while prize-money, match payments (for 20 members) and personal endorsements are added extras.
The panel takes into account form over the past 12 months and the likelihood of the cricketers appearing in international sides in the next year. The number of Twenty20 internationals on the calendar has made it hard for short-form specialists, such as David Warner and David Hussey, to gain contracts and they will have to rely on their state deals unless they qualify for a national contract through international appearances.
However, Tait, who only plays Twenty20 and domestic one-dayers, held his spot. "We see him as an important member of the World Twenty20 squad and a real chance to force his way back into the Australian 50-over side," Hilditch said. "At his best he is a powerful weapon in limited-overs cricket."
The size of the payment pool has convinced James Sutherland, the Cricket Australia chief executive, that the sport is an increasingly attractive career-choice. "Australia's top-level cricketers are well paid with marketing contract incentives rewarding players for their off-field work on behalf of cricket and recognising that this is an important part of their roles," he said. "In addition to CA-contracted players, it is also important to note that state payments continue to increase." The minimum for a domestic contract is $50,000, rising to a maximum of $140,000.
2010-11 contracted players Doug Bollinger, Michael Clarke, Callum Ferguson, Brad Haddin, Ryan Harris, Nathan Hauritz, Ben Hilfenhaus, James Hopes, Phillip Hughes, Michael Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Simon Katich, Brett Lee, Shaun Marsh, Andrew McDonald, Clint McKay, Marcus North, Tim Paine, Ricky Ponting, Peter Siddle, Steven Smith, Shaun Tait, Adam Voges, Shane Watson, Cameron White.