Players left off Cricket Australia’s men’s contract list for next season will not feel any better than the countless others to have a similar experience over the 35 years since the governing body unified marketing and playing contracts into one authoritative annual ledger.
However, they will be the most informed about the circumstances around their omissions and the paths by which they may find a way back into the fold, after the national selection panel instituted a long overdue process of granting players more information about how they have been judged, and a formal opportunity to debate their individual feedback with selectors.
What can be seen in this decision are the influences of a couple of events last season. First there were the withdrawals of numerous players for mental health reasons, with anxiety around selection or non-selection and the issues within it always a source of angst. Secondly, CA chose to appoint the widely respected George Bailey as a selector, with a brief to work on improving communication between panel and players.
For Trevor Hohns, who has been either a selector or chairman of the panel over two stints stretching back to 1993, it is a significant change from years of communications between players and selectors that varied wildly.
Over many years it was even non-existent, as players heard about their omissions via radio broadcasts or perhaps the different city to which their flight baggage was tagged. Phone calls gradually became the norm, but even then they would often be short conversations between selectors eager to break the news and move on, and players reeling from the shock of having their income drastically reduced in an instant. Hohns summarised the change.
“What I can tell you is all players have been contacted, those that have been awarded a contract have been contacted. Those who were in the contract list last year and have been omitted, they’ve been contacted and spoken to,” Hohns said. “Then we’ve followed that up with a letter confirming their inclusion or their omission.
“For those who have been omitted, there’s also been some feedback from the national selection panel included in that letter. So they can digest that. Then in the next week or so, someone from the panel – it may well be the coach – will call those players and give them the opportunity to discuss it and debate that feedback that has been provided. I think the system should work pretty well.”
This system will run in concert with selection criteria that are evolving and increasing in depth all the time. “As far as selecting, we obviously watch a lot of cricket, we know the players, we think we know them back to front, we know what they can do,” Hohns said. “We keep our own notes, we keep our own information, but we also provide a lot of data, a lot of statistics. There’s a fair bit of that research goes into it, and that’s a matter of the simple part is what they’ve done over the last 12 months.
“We know all that, we have all the records, but then we have to try to project where they may fit in to our teams going forward into the next 12 months. That’s basically how we do it. We take other things into account as well of course and these days a fair amount’s placed on character, placed on fitness and how they present themselves. All those things come into play when we’re ranking them.”
Hohns is currently on a short-term bridging contract with CA as further deliberations about his future are placed on hold by the Covid-19 pandemic. But the formalisation of feedback from selectors to players and back the other way has the distinct ring of Bailey’s influence since he was appointed a selector late last year, before he had retired from a long first-class and limited-overs career that saw him captain Australia in ODIs and T20s while also playing five Tests.
Typically of his reputation for thoughtfulness and clear communication skills, Bailey had made it plain that he was taking soundings from team-mates and opponents alike while still playing as to what they wanted to see from the national panel.
“I’m trying to ask a lot of the players now,” Bailey told 2GB Radio in December. “My understanding of it is and in my experience I reckon what they’re after is a really logical sequence of events. I think players can understand selections when they can see a process has been followed and a player has been picked with a really good argument and reasoning behind it. I think at times that maybe hasn’t happened.
“I think the other things that players want, they may not want it at the time, is brutal honesty. Players would prefer to be hit between the eyes with the real reason that they are or aren’t being selected rather than perhaps a reason that has been made to let them down gently or make them feel better about it. There’s no great way to deliver particularly getting dropped, a message for that point in time that you’re ruining someone’s dream.”
Asked about Bailey, Hohns spoke warmly of the qualities he had brought to the selection table. “George has been very good. His input has been invaluable, he’s a very experienced cricketer, as we all know. He’s been an Australian captain as well, so he certainly knows all the players, knows them back to front because he’s only recently retired.”
Australia’s cricketers, it is easy to suspect, are looking forward to seeing his name flash up on their phones too, even at times when the news might not be good for them.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.