Uncontracted trio still 'in the mix' for World Cup, Tests

Men's selection chair George Bailey says Marcus Stoinis, Ashton Agar and Michael Neser remain in the frame for national selection

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Marcus Stoinis and Ashton Agar are still in the mix to play a part in Australia's T20 World Cup tilt in June despite losing their national contracts for next year, says men's selection chair George Bailey.

Injury-plagued speedster Jhye Richardson – who retained his Cricket Australia (CA) contract for 2024-25 – is also a chance of a World Cup call up and Bailey is hopeful the West Australian will get an opportunity to push his case for selection with the Delhi Capitals in this year's Indian Premier League.

The 27-year-old right-armer is still recovering from a side strain that cut short his KFC BBL|13 campaign in January, but the Ricky Ponting-coached Capitals say he will definitely be available for "some part" of IPL 2024.

CA today announced a 23-man group of centrally contracted men's players for next year with WA allrounders Stoinis and Agar joining Victoria opener Marcus Harris, Queensland seamer Michael Neser and the retiring David Warner as the five omissions from the 2023-24 list.

The T20 World Cup in the United States and Caribbean falls in the current contracting period with all five remaining on CA's books until the end of June.

Stoinis missed Australia's T20 tour of New Zealand last month with a back injury but returned to action for Lucknow Super Giants in their IPL season opener last Sunday, where he was not required to bowl and scored three runs from No.7 in the franchise's first match under new coach Justin Langer.

Agar, meanwhile, hasn't played international cricket since last September's first ODI against South Africa where he picked up a calf injury during a match-winning partnership with Marnus Labuschagne, who would go on to replace the left-arm spinner in Australia's 50-over World Cup-winning squad.

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The 30-year-old last played a T20 international in the 2022 World Cup when he filled in for Covid-positive Adam Zampa.

But Bailey today indicated selectors were leaning towards naming another spinner in Australia's 15-player squad for this year's edition alongside the star leggie and off-spinning allrounder Glenn Maxwell with pitches in the Caribbean traditionally slower with less bounce.

"The balance of the squad will probably lend itself to having that second spinner there," Bailey told reporters from Hobart.

"It still seems hard for everyone to get their head around the fact Glenn Maxwell's a pretty handy white-ball spinner and we don't necessarily consider him a part-time option, he's one that we consider a frontline option.

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"So 'Zamps' will clearly be there, and I think there will be an opportunity potentially for one more.

"We will come together at the end of April to put a squad together for that and both 'Stoin' and Ash Agar will be firmly in the mix for the squad."

All players who missed out on a CA deal for 2024-25 can still secure an upgrade to a national contract if selected in enough matches for Australia, like Tim David, Nathan Ellis, Matt Short, Tanveer Sangha, Aaron Hardie, Matthew Wade, Jason Behrendorff and Spencer Johnson did this year.

But with the next white-ball World Cup following February's ODI Champions Trophy in Pakistan not until February-March 2026, selectors clearly have one eye on the future with emerging allrounders Short and Hardie, along with rising quicks Ellis and Xavier Bartlett, earning contracts for next year.

David wasn't offered a contract for 2024-25 but he is expected to play a key part at the T20 World Cup and beyond with Bailey saying he would continue to be a "really important member" of Australia's team in the shortest format.

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"There's not a great deal of T20 cricket next year in terms of how quickly we need to build towards the next World Cup (in India and Sri Lanka in 2026)," Bailey said.

"In one-day and T20 cricket it always moves more in cycles than Test cricket just given the nature of the buildup to those major tournaments.

"Going forward, I think performances both individually and as a team will dictate how quickly that team transitions."

The men's selection chair also said the door wasn't closed on Neser's hopes of returning to the Test side despite missing out on a national contract.

The Queenslander hasn't played a Test since December 2022 after slipping behind Scott Boland in the pace pecking order, but he was named 12th man for Australia's most recent Test against New Zealand earlier this month when the Victorian was released to play for his state in the Marsh Sheffield Shield.

"There are a couple of guys with potentially some multi-format skills that meant unfortunately he just missed out (on a contract)," Bailey said.

"He's had a challenging year on a number of fronts from a personal point of view, but it hasn't changed where he sits in that pecking order.

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"The fact he was on that New Zealand tour, our most recent tour, shows that he's still held in really high regard.

"We've been pretty clear that Scott Boland, Michael Neser and Lance Morris have been the three that have been ready and waiting and unfortunately for them they haven't had an opportunity.

"(It's been) fortunate for us that Pat (Cummins), Mitchell (Starc) and Josh (Hazlewood) have been so resilient and been able to play as well and as much as they have.

"But going forward there may be more opportunities across that across that Test space and 'Ness' will firmly remain in the mix for that."

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