Australian concern over unsettled top six with Ashes looming as contract list revealed

Chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns admits he is concerned about Australia’s unsettled top six and Test-free schedule leading up to next summer. Former vice-captain Travis Head and young gun Will Pucovski failed to make the cut in Cricket Australia’s 17-man contract list for 2021-22 that was announced on Friday.

CA handed out 20 men’s contracts a year ago, but trimmed that number for the coming year that features a Twenty20 World Cup in India and a home Ashes series. Head, Joe Burns, Mitch Marsh and Matthew Wade were all dumped from the list, while Steve Smith, David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne were the only specialist Test batsmen included.

Allrounder Cameron Green is in the box seat to remain at No 6 in the first Test, but it is clear that at least two batting spots will be up for grabs later this year. Pucovski loomed as the leading contender to open alongside Warner against England, but Hohns cautioned the prodigy is in the early stages of recovery from shoulder surgery.

“With no real guarantee that he’ll be fit for the start of the season,” Hohns said. “It’s looking promising and we all hope he is. What we’d like to see from Will is he gets fully fit, back on the field and scores some runs. If he’s doing that then I have no doubt he’ll feature quite prominently in our discussions.”

Recently retired swing specialist Chadd Sayers tweeted it was an “absolute disgrace” to overlook his state skipper Head, who was set to tour South Africa before posting scores of 223 and 142 for South Australia during a productive end to the Sheffield Shield season.

Hohns indicated Head and other snubbed players remain in the mix for the five-Test series against England, adding they will be upgraded to a central contract if they play enough international fixtures.

“There’s no secret that there’s positions available,” he said. “It’s a concern there’s no stand out [opening partner for Warner]. We’re challenging our players to really put their hand up again at the start of next season.”

Whereas England are playing a stack of red-ball cricket in coming months, Australia will not don the baggy green until they return from the T20 World Cup for the home summer.

“Very concerned about that, there can be no doubts,” Hohns said. “Hopefully there will be plenty of Shield cricket programmed leading up to the first Test match. I believe there will be. But that is not going to help some of our players because hopefully they’re going to be fully engaged in the T20 World Cup. It’s a difficult one.”

A squad and schedule for Australia’s white-ball tour of the West Indies in June will be announced in coming weeks.

CA contract list for 2021-22: Ashton Agar, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Glenn Maxwell, Tim Paine, James Pattinson, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner, Adam Zamp