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Victoria have secured the promising young legspinner James Muirhead for the next four seasons after he signed a long-term deal to stay in his home state. Muirhead, 20, was a left-field selection for Australia's recent Twenty20 series against England but despite his lack of experience he bowled well in all three games, showing impressive control and gaining significant turn.
He made his first-class debut for Victoria last summer but has not played a Sheffield Shield match this season, although he is expected to be given an extended run in the four-day side when the Shield restarts next week. His emergence as an international bowler will leave Fawad Ahmed with an uncertain immediate future less than a year after the Australian selectors were considering him for an Ashes campaign.
Ahmed has played five Shield games this season for 14 wickets at 34.07 and he appears to have drifted out of international contention in all formats. The left-armer Jon Holland has also played Shield cricket for Victoria this year and was part of the Australia A side that took on England in Hobart in the lead-up to the Ashes series, but he too may find himself struggling for a place in the side if Muirhead is picked.
Muirhead's success in the T20s against England will make him a strong chance for selection for the World T20 in Bangladesh, where spin is expected to play a key role, and Victoria were understandably keen to lock him into a long-term contract given his age and potential.
Last year, South Australia were fined $15,000 for breaching Cricket Australia's rules on player movements after they were found to have held talks with Muirhead, then on a rookie contract with the Bushrangers, without informing Cricket Victoria. The interest from interstate may well have increased after this summer but Muirhead, who was born and raised in Melbourne, was keen to stay in Victoria.
"I feel like Victoria is the best environment for me to develop my cricket," Muirhead said. "I was born in Melbourne, I live in Melbourne and now I can just focus on playing my cricket in Melbourne. We've got a great set-up, with the best coaches ... so I'm very happy."
The Victoria coach Greg Shipperd said Muirhead remained a work in progress but the state's coaches were looking forward to helping him develop his bowling and understanding of the game over the next four seasons.
"We seem to be a bit of a factory of spinners at the moment," Shipperd said. "So to have secured one of Australia's most promising legspinners - someone who has already shown in the heat of international competition that he's got the nerve and an exciting skill set - to have him commit to Victoria is a really positive move for our squad."