The Faulk Gets The Knife — CA’s Central Contracts

On Monday, Cricket Australia announced the 20 players to be offered contracts for 2017–18. As happens every year, there is a lot of conjecture on who made the list and who missed out, and this year was no exception. To best examine the selections, I have broken it down by position.

Bowlers

Jackson Bird, Patrick Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, James Pattinson, Billy Stanlake, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa.

At first glance, there aren’t too many surprises in this list. Other than James Pattinson, all the other bowlers have played for Australia in at least one format in the last six months. Pattinson, returning from injury, has already represented his nation 36 times, and can be certain to do so again.

The biggest inclusion is 22-year old beanpole, Billy Stanlake. The young Queenslander is a giant of man, and as a result, is capable of bowling steeply-rising deliveries in excess of 140km/h. Stanlake has played just 2 first-class games, and two short-form internationals with middling results, so it is clear that his contract offer was based on promise. I’m not convinced that Stanlake will represent his country much, or at all, in the next 12 months, and I can’t help but think that his contract should have gone to a more deserving recipient.

The most deserving player to miss out is South Australian seamer, Chadd Sayers. The Redbacks seamer led all Sheffield Shield wicket takers with 62 wickets at just 19 a piece. Sayers has taken 201 Shield wickets at the very tidy average of 23, yet remains uncapped at international level. While his stats are impressive, vision of his bowling shows just how dominant he was. The majority of Sayers wickets come bowled, LBW or caught behind the wicket. By my count, just 5 of the 62 wickets he took last season came off bad shots. The selectors have resisted Sayers, suggesting that he bowls too slow for international cricket (Sayers generally bowls around 130km/h), but he consistently beats defences at the highest domestic level. Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock weren’t particularly quick bowlers, and they both took over 400 test wickets. The precedent is there for Sayers to have success at the top level, he just needs the opportunity.

Nathan Coulter-Nile, John Hastings and Peter Siddle all missed out on contracts this season, but none are really a surprise. The selectors seem to have moved on from Peter Siddle, and Nathan Coulter-Nile has never quite reached the level required to consistently play at the top level. Hastings was selected in the 15-man Champions Trophy squad, and is still very much in the selectors’ minds.

All-Rounders

Ashton Agar, Hilton Cartwright, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell

Ashton Agar can consider himself very lucky to receive a Cricket Australia contract. He was certainly the beneficiary of the omission of fellow left-arm spinner, Steve O’Keefe. O’Keefe’s recent indiscretions outweighed his great bowling performance on the tour of India, and ultimately cost him a contract. Agar set the world on fire with a blazing 98 on his Test debut back in the 2013 Ashes. Since then he has played a pair of ODIs and a pair of T20’s for Australia with unimpressive results. Agar appears to have tremendous talent, and is only 23, but he has underperformed with bat and ball domestically.

Hilton Cartwright was a shock selection for the Sydney Test against Pakistan, but made a patient and confident 37. Cartwright was the 2nd leading run scorer in the Shield this season, amassing 861 runs at 54. Through 22 first-class games, the Warriors All-Rounder averages 52 with the bat. While his bowling needs some work before it can be effective at the top level (Cartwright takes less than a wicket a match, and averages 44 with the ball), at 25, the future is bright for Hilton Cartwright.

The selectors’ love-affair with Mitch Marsh continues. Marsh has been very good for Australia in the 50-over format, with over 1000 runs at 35 and 41 wickets at 36. But Marsh has been abominable in Test cricket. It is incredible that he keeps getting selected in Test matches. It is more incredible that he gets to bat at 6. I get what the selectors see in Marsh, he is just 25, he bowls a heavy ball and he can hit it out of stadiums. He looks like a unicorn. But sometimes you have to realise that maybe you don’t have a unicorn, and you are just flogging a dead horse. I’m not surprised that Marsh received a contract, but I don’t think it is deserved.

The most glaring omission from the entire contract list is Tasmanian All-Rounder, James Faulkner. Faulkner has been a regular in Australia’s ODI and T20 team since 2013. Faulkner hasn’t under-performed either, in ODIs he averages a healthy 34 with the bat at faster than a run a ball, and has taken 95 wickets at a rate of a wicket every 32 balls. Like Agar, Faulkner made his Test debut in the 2013 Ashes, taking 6 wickets at 16 and also making a pair of 20’s. Since then Faulkner has been overlooked at Test level, despite an incredible first-class record (2500 runs at 31, 190 wickets at 25). It struck me as strange when Faulkner wasn’t selected for the tour of India, and stranger still when it was announced it would be Marcus Stoinis, rather than Faulkner, that would replace the injured Mitch Marsh. I’m not sure what the selectors have against Faulkner, but it’s clear that they do not want to select him. Like Sayers, a high output over a lengthy period is apparently not what the selectors are looking for. At only 26, Faulkner has plenty of time to earn his spot, and his contract, back.

Wicketkeeper

Matthew Wade

As the incumbent Test and ODI wicketkeeper, it is no surprise that Matthew Wade earned a contract. The question of whether or not Wade should be the incumbent keeper is still a valid one. It is a myth that Matthew Wade is a good Test batsman, he averages just 31, and he makes too many mistakes behind the stumps to only average 31.

Peter Nevill was unlucky to be dropped after a good Test series against South Africa. He responded in the best possible way by scoring 174 not out in his first Shield game after being dropped, going on to average 57 for the Shield season. Nevill largely underperformed with the bat in his stint as Australian Test keeper, averaging just 22, but Nevill has a first-class batting average over 40, and you could expect a better batting performance if Nevill was to get another opportunity. I hope the selectors give him another chance, because Australia could really use his sharp work behind the stumps.

The other wicketkeeper I want to mention here is young South Australian, Alex Carey. Carey broke the Shield record by taking 59 dismissals last season. Carey was also useful with the bat, scoring 594 runs at 33 with 5 half-centuries. Alex Carey became just the 4th player in Shield history (behind Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Wade and Wade Seccombe) to score over 500 runs and take over 50 dismissals in the same season. All this in his first full season. If Wade continues to falter, and the selectors are unwilling to return to Nevill, Carey could be keeping for Australia sooner rather than later.

Batsmen

Aaron Finch, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Matthew Renshaw, Steve Smith, David Warner

The contracts for the Australian batsmen provide no surprises. Matt Renshaw is rewarded for his great start to Test cricket with his first Cricket Australia contract. Renshaw has shown great maturity at such a young age, and he should be given the opportunity to forge a successful opening partnership with David Warner. As he grows as a batsman, he’ll get chances in the shorter form of the game too.

Initially, I was surprised that Aaron Finch received a contract. Finch is an interesting cricketer, he is short and stocky and strong, he has a great understanding of the game and he is a true competitor. But Finch also has the technique of a club cricketer. He plants his feet, bends his knees and hacks at the ball. When the ball isn’t doing much, Finch can brutalise an attack, but his lack of footwork gets him in to trouble against elite bowlers or the swinging ball. Finch captained Australia on the tour of New Zealand in March, and consequently it would be pretty harsh to leave him off the contract list.

It appears the selectors have finally lost patience with West Australian left-hander, Shaun Marsh. Marsh replaced Usman Khawaja in the top order on the tour of India due to his alleged skills against spin, but Marsh continued his underperformance for the national team, and was particularly susceptible to spin. Shaun Marsh’s omission from the contract list is a positive step for Australia.

From the contract list, it’s clear that the selectors have an agenda. They want bowlers who can bowl fast, and they are desperately looking for a batting allrounder at number 6. Selectors also value promise over performance, with the Sheffield Shield leading wicket taker (Chadd Sayers) and leading run scorer (Ed Cowan) left off the contract list. I think this is an unhelpful message to send to domestic cricketers. I think taking wickets and making runs at the highest domestic level should be rewarded far more than bowling 145km/h and being able to hit 100m sixes, but apparently the Australians selectors don’t share that view.

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