Vodafone Men's Ashes
Aussies face Test 'concerns' ahead of Ashes: Hohns
Selection chief Trevor Hohns admits Australia's lack of Test cricket in 2021, especially compared to England's bumper schedule, is a worry ahead of next summer's Ashes
23 April 2021, 05:59 PM AEST
With five of the nine specialist batters employed during Australia's most recent Test campaign deemed not worthy of central contracts, selection chair Trevor Hohns concedes he's "very concerned" about the team's build-up for next summer's home Ashes series.
By the start of the next home Test summer – which is likely to consist of a one-off clash with Afghanistan before five Tests against England – Australia will have gone 11 months without playing a game in the five-day format while their English rivals will have come off a bumper home season with Test series against India and New Zealand.
Compounding Australia's concern is the knowledge some key players – including the sole specialist Test opener on the new CA contract list, David Warner – are expected to miss crucial Marsh Sheffield Shield games at the start of next summer due to their involvement in the T20 World Cup in India.
And Will Pucovski, tipped by many to be Warner's preferred opening partner for the Ashes campaign, has only recently undergone surgery to repair the shoulder he injured in his Test debut last January with Hohns noting there was "no real guarantee he'll be fit for the start of the season".
As a consequence, performances in the opening rounds of next summer's Shield competition will play a significant part in deciding the make-up of Australia's Test team which suffered a 2-1 defeat to an injury-ravaged India in last summer's Vodafone Series.
"Very concerned about that, there can be no doubt," Hohns said about the fact Australia have no offshore Test cricket this year for the second consecutive winter and will enter the Ashes having not played a Test since the previous January.
"It's a difficult one, England are certainly playing plenty of Test cricket and we haven't got anything on the plate."
"We're hopeful there will be plenty of Shield cricket, and I believe there will be, leading up to the first Test match.
"However, that's not going to help some of our players because hopefully they will be fully engaged in the T20 World Cup."
The need to have players who not only prosper at domestic level, but are able to translate that form to the international stage, was a key reason in trimming the number of CA contracts awarded for the coming year from 20 to 17.
Hohns' message seemed to be targeted at players such as Travis Head, Matthew Wade and Marcus Harris who had been prolific with the bat in Shield cricket but failed to produce a score of 50 between them in their combined 13 Test innings against India last summer.
That trio, along with Pucovski and fellow opener Joe Burns, all missed out on CA contracts along with limited-overs allrounder Marcus Stoinis who had been elevated to the central contract list after repeated selection over the preceding months.
But Hohns reiterated that with just four specialist Test-capped batters now on the CA-contracted list – Warner, Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne and newly elevated Cameron Green – opportunities exist for players to be upgraded to the list by gaining selection and maintaining their places in national teams.
"What we're saying to a lot of players, at least those that are on the fringes, is sure it's very nice to be performing well in domestic cricket and that allows you to get chosen to play for Australia," Hohns said today.
"But when you play for Australia, we require pretty good, consistent performances and then, of course, if they can do that they will acquire an upgrade to a Cricket Australia contract.
"We're not necessarily saying we're unhappy with the performance of some of our players, we're just asking them to contribute a little bit more on a more consistent basis when they get into that (national) team or get called into those squads.
"We want to make sure the Cricket Australia contract list remains very, very competitive and make sure the players see it as a huge incentive to gain one.
"With all players who are outside this list, nobody is written off and there's doubt that across all formats 17 players can't cover it.
"So there's going to be plenty of opportunity available for any player who's missed this list over the next 12 months because there's a lot of cricket to be played – white ball, red ball, everything."
Hohns said he had spoken with all players whose contract status had changed, but declined to elaborate on the nature or content of any of those conversations.
He also conceded the absence of specialist opening batters in the 17-man list was worrying but he added it provided a challenge for "our players that bat up the top of the list, to really put up their hand at the start of the season and get into that Australian side and perform well when they're there."
The absence of top-order batters contrasts sharply with the stocks of pace bowlers who fill six of the CA contract berths with Hohns indicating that surfeit of talent might shape the selectors' approach to the coming five-Test Ashes summer.
India's success in the four-match Vodafone Series was built largely on the efforts of their pace attack, several of whom made their Test debuts as experienced teammates succumbed to injury but then proved more than a match for their Australia rivals.
As a result, Hohns acknowledged that Australia might have to revisit the 'squad' approach they took to fast-bowling stocks when they retained the Ashes in the UK two years ago, having opted to field the same pace attack – Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Green – in all four Tests against India.
"Particularly now when most Test matches are programmed pretty close on the heels of each other," Hohns said of the potential need to 'rotate' fast bowlers through a long Test summer.
"We can't ask them to continually back up day after day, or Test match after Test match and bowl a lot of overs because it's only natural they're going to get tired.
"Sure they may feel okay in themselves, but we're really got to monitor that a bit harder I think."
An additional quick (along with now-retired Peter Siddle) employed during the 2019 Ashes was James Pattinson, who was part of Australia's squad for the first two Tests against India before being sidelined with an injury he sustained in a domestic accident.
Pattinson, who turns 31 next month, retained his CA contract despite playing just two Tests in the 20 months since the previous Ashes campaign but Hohns indicated the Victorian was expected to figure prominently in selection discussions over the coming year.
"In hindsight, maybe he could have been used last (summer) but James also has a pretty good Test match record whenever he has played," Hohns said.
"So we still consider him a prime candidate to play Test cricket for us in the next 12 months."
Hohns also confirmed the increasing number of players opting to specialise in individual formats (Test, ODI or T20) made it difficult to complete a central contract list which – under the terms of the current Memorandum of Understanding between CA and the Australian Cricketers' Association – is capped at 20.
However, he claimed CA was not yet prepared to follow the model of their England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) counterparts who offer separate contracts for Test and white-ball cricket, with multi-format players eligible to be included on both lists.
"Whilst we have mentioned that, we're not ready for it quite yet," Hohns said.
"It may progress to that down the track because it's becoming more and more obvious that players are specialising in different formats of the game."