Australia's new IPL millionaires throw spotlight on New Zealand T20 series

The cancelled South Africa Test tour has yielded a handsome return for fast bowlers Jhye Richardson and Riley Meredith

Riley Meredith
Riley Meredith’s million-dollar IPL contract suggests he will be among the first players selected for each match against New Zealand. Photograph: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images
Riley Meredith’s million-dollar IPL contract suggests he will be among the first players selected for each match against New Zealand. Photograph: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

Last modified on Sat 20 Feb 2021 14.02 EST

Last Friday morning, Jhye Richardson and Riley Meredith found themselves holding an unexpected press conference via video from their quarantine hotel in Christchurch. Ahead of their imminent Twenty20 series against New Zealand, the two Australian fast bowlers had each been offered million-dollar contracts for the Indian Premier League. Their price tags suggest they will be the first players selected for each match, rather than heading over as many players do to make up the numbers.

It could be strange in the first instance for these junior players to join in training for Australia with such big dollar signs over their heads, especially when senior teammates were passed up. Their national captain and vice-captain, Aaron Finch and Matthew Wade, drew no bids at the auction. Nor did fast bowler Jason Behrendorff. There will be no IPL this year for D’Arcy Short, Ashton Agar or Ashton Turner.

But then, you could see this result as just a further instance of Big Bash names such as Meredith and Richardson upstaging the ranks of established national cricketers. Right about now, an expanded Australian Test squad was supposed to be in South Africa ahead of three matches in Johannesburg. Hence having to pick a secondary T20 squad to fulfil obligations in New Zealand. Cricket Australia later bailed from the Test tour citing pandemic health concerns, but the complications of borders and biosecurity meant none of the South Africa party joined the New Zealand trip.

The principal Test-squad players – Steve Smith, David Warner, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc – might not mind the break. They would be guaranteed picks for the T20 team in a normal situation, and will surely be at the T20 World Cup in October. Others in that cancelled Test squad – such as Alex Carey, Moises Henriques, Sean Abbott, Mitchell Swepson, Cameron Green or Travis Head – may be ruing the missed chance to press their claims in New Zealand.

In their collective absence, the opportunity instead falls to others. Alongside the pace department of Richardson and Meredith, the tour will feature Sydney Thunder pace-bowling allrounder Daniel Sams, his 19-year-old teammate and leg-spinner Tanveer Sangha, the Hobart middle-order striker Ben McDermott and the exciting combination of wicketkeeping and top-order smiting offered by Sydney Sixers sensation Josh Philippe.

They will be tackling a very upbeat New Zealand side after a home season that has so far returned a solitary loss in a T20 match against Pakistan. The Kiwis have won every other white-ball game as well as four Test matches on home soil, and are enjoying having already qualified for the World Test Championship final while watching India, England and Australia fret over who will get the other spot.

New Zealand is now the safest cricket destination in the world, one that no wealthier country can claim to be too anxious to visit. Given the local suppression of the pandemic, matches will be played with crowds in attendance up and down the country: Christchurch and Dunedin on the South Island, then the bumpy hop over to Wellington before visiting Auckland and Mount Maunganui. Given the lack of a competing Test series and the friendly afternoon timeslots, what was definitely the understudy tour will now have the spotlight in Australia.

Western Australia paceman Jhye Richardson
Western Australia paceman Jhye Richardson. Photograph: Sarah Reed/Getty Images

Not that the current T20 team lacks senior experience. It counts in its ranks the star power of Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis, Western Australia captain Mitchell Marsh, and regular national bowlers Kane Richardson, Adam Zampa and Andrew Tye, all of whom also have current IPL deals. So do Philippe and Sams for that matter, though they will have to fight for game time to prove themselves in that arena in April and May.

That prospect is extremely relevant given the upcoming World Cup is due to be held in India, with a sealed tournament in the United Arab Emirates as a contingency plan depending on coronavirus vulnerability. A strong showing in Indian conditions across a couple of months of T20 intensity should probably count for more than performances in New Zealand in March, the colour of the shirt worn at the time notwithstanding. Warner, Smith, Cummins, Hazlewood and Henriques are the players from the cancelled Test squad who will still have a chance to tune up in the IPL despite missing New Zealand. Richardson and Meredith have joined the ranks of those with a chance in both.

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