With the World Cup back under southern skies the Australian cricket selectors have wasted no time in getting back to work. David Boon, Merv Hughes, Jamie Cox and Andrew Hilditch announced yesterday the list of contracted players that will represent the national side over the next 12 months. With the retirements of Damien Martyn, Justin Langer, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, and the omission of Simon Katich and Michael Kasprowicz several young players have been rewarded for excellence at first class level.
Michael Clarke - NSW; Matthew Hayden - QLD; Brad Hodge - VIC; Michael Hussey - WA; Phil Jaques - NSW; Ricky Ponting - TAS; Chris Rogers - WA; Adam Voges - WA
Adam Gilchrist - WA; Brad Haddin - NSW
James Hopes - QLD; Andrew Symonds - QLD; Shane Watson - QLD; Cameron White - VIC
Cullen Bailey - SA; Nathan Bracken - NSW; Stuart Clark - NSW; Daniel Cullen - SA; Jason Gillespie - SA; Ben Hilfenhaus - TAS; Brad Hogg - WA; Mitchell Johnson - QLD
Brett Lee - NSW; Stuart Magill - NSW; Shaun Tait - SA
There are few surprises within the squad but two selections do stand out. Jason Gillespie, after being in the wilderness for 18 months has returned to provide more experience to the fast bowling ranks. And sensibly the fetished selection of four wrist spinners to try and cover the loss of Shane Warne. I’m afraid four may not be enough but the inclusion of 22 year old South Australian Cullen Bailey is the stand out.
A super fit, committed Christian with MENSA membership, the modest Bailey is a complete contrast in personality and manner to the great S.K.Warne. However, the crucial thing they do have in common is the mentorship of Terry Jenner. Bailey has been under Jenner’s tutelage since age 14 and Terry unsurprisingly speaks very highly of his young charge.
Jenner describes Bailey as a spinner similar in style to Richie Benaud and the most treasured Australian captain has been making regular trips to Adelaide in the last 18 months to offer advice and groom the young spinner.
Richie has praised the youngster's analysis of the game and points to Bailey’s insightful columns on the Redback’s website as evidence. He is most impressed with his insatiable curiosity and I suspect that Benaud sees a fair bit of himself in the young South Australian.
Whilst senior citizens around the country are rushing to have their cholesterol checked to ensure they are around to witness Benaud Mark II, Stuart Magill will be expected to fill the gap until Bailey is ready for international cricket. Jenner is of the opinion that the selectors mustn’t rush the erudite Bailey and insists that he needs more time to hone his craft.
"I think it would be devastating for a young player to follow Warne straight in, and the reputation and aura and records that come with that," Jenner said. "Stuey has a very important job now. I do believe that Bailey has the ability and the work ethic to be a successful Test bowler, but he needs to be given a chance to develop."
Magill, after more than a decade of playing second fiddle to Warne is now presented with a very important role to play for the successful future of Australian cricket. In the short term, as the spinning spearhead and in the longer term as the bridge to the next generation.
This was emphasised by Chairman of Selectors Andrew Hilditch at yesterday’s press conference, “Australian cricket is very lucky to have someone like Stuart," the solicitor said. "We obviously think he is a very valuable player for us and that is why we have placed a fair bit of faith in him."
He also added probably to Jenner’s horror and Bailey’s delight that the young Redback was well in the frame for international selection. "He has put together a couple of solid seasons now," Hilditch added. "Sometimes these things happen quickly."
With India touring later this year it will be tempting for the selectors to play Bailey in the Sydney Test as Magill’s spinning accomplice. This echoes of the Indian tour of 1991/92 when a young, tubby, inexperienced leggie with peroxided locks from Victoria was given his first baggygreen. That match was a baptism of fire for Warne and I expect the selectors will throw Bailey into the same inferno to see if he really is made of, the right stuff.