Ashton Agar has jumped ahead of Adam Zampa
It came as little surprise that Ashton Agar retained his spot on the contract list, but the absence of Adam Zampa indicates the left-armer's selection is with an eye on white-ball cricket as much as the upcoming Test series in the UAE. Selectors have made it clear that this round of contracts has a heavy limited-overs focus ahead of the 2019 World Cup and the fact Zampa has dropped off the list is a clear backing of Agar's white-ball credentials. Agar, having himself acknowledged last September that he was firmly the No.2 spinner in line behind Zampa, quickly jumped ahead of the leggie in the following six months and played a starring role in Australia's T20 tri-series triumph against England and New Zealand. With the World Cup a little more than a year away, he's now in prime spot to be Australia's main spinner at the showpiece tournament.
Alex Carey is primed to be Australia's white-ball wicketkeeper
Selectors have opted for two wicketkeepers on the list for the first time in five years, a strong indication that the task will be split between new Test skipper Tim Paine and highly-regarded youngster Alex Carey. Paine's workload has increased exponentially since his Test recall and selectors may look to lessen the strain by restricting his focus to the huge task of captaining the Test side. The emergence of Carey last summer, and the fact Paine wasn't able to make the most of his limited chances against the white ball, makes that decision even easier as Australia look ahead to the World Cup. Carey's sharp glovework and strong returns with the bat earned him debuts in ODI and T20 cricket in 2017-18 and the fact he's an opener in white-ball cricket domestically could also work in his favour given the Aussies will be without regular opener David Warner for the next 12 months.
Selectors looking beyond the 'Big Three' quicks for the World Cup
The focus on white-ball cricket in this contract list is underlined by the fact that four of the seven fast bowlers named are yet to have a taste of Test cricket. While Jackson Bird and Chadd Sayers were overlooked despite having played Tests in the past four months, white-ball specialists Billy Stanlake, Andrew Tye and Kane Richardson were all named along with WA youngster Jhye Richardson, who is on the radar for all formats. The quartet all performed strongly in limited-overs cricket last summer and the likes of Tye and Kane Richardson offer a different set of skills to the 'Big Three' quicks of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins. With white-ball tours of England and Zimbabwe on the horizon, those fast men will likely get another chance to impress this year with a view to forming a more balanced pace attack for the World Cup. The fact Starc, Cummins and Mitchell Marsh are all currently on the sidelines due to injury has only added to a desire for greater depth of fast-bowling options.
The race for Test batting spots is wide open
Just who will fill the sizeable void left in the Test side by the suspensions of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft remains a mystery, with just six batsmen with previous Test experience named on the contract list. Opener Matthew Renshaw has retained his contract and looks set to fill one of the vacant opening spots, but the identity of his opening partner is unclear after Joe Burns – who opened in the Johannesburg Test last month – was not offered a deal. The vacuum of Test batsmen means the likes of Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis and even Travis Head could earn a chance over the next 12 months, especially given Peter Handscomb, Usman Khawaja and even the Marsh brothers (despite their Ashes heroics) were unable to enhance their reputations on the difficult tour of South Africa.
There's plenty of hope for those left out
Chadd Sayers, Jackson Bird, D'Arcy Short and injury-plagued trio Chris Lynn, Nathan Coulter-Nile and James Pattinson could all consider themselves unlucky to not earn a central contract, but the door remains wide open for them to play for Australia over the next 12 months. Players can earn a contract upgrade during the year by earning 12 'upgrade points', with five points awarded for a Test appearance, two for an ODI and one for a T20I. And with plenty of cricket lined up during the contract period, including the World Cup, there will be adequate opportunities for those outside the contract list to earn upgrades. "Jackson and Chadd have missed out on this occasion, but they remain in the frame for Australian honours moving forward and can be upgraded if selected," selector Trevor Hohns said. "We would like to see both James and Nathan now put some consistent games together for their states. They are both quality fast bowlers and we have no doubt that if they can play regularly and remain fit in the upcoming season, they will become very positive selection options for us."