As another summer grows ever more distant in the rear view mirror of life and the international game takes an IPL-enforced drinks break, there is precious little for an Australian domestic fan to do. The Sheffield Shield has been raised once more, the top performers have found their way into winter squads, and the cricket nerd’s favourite time of year has come around once more. Contracts.
There’s a strange fascination with the cricket contracting process, watching domestic journeymen fly around the country year on year in the hope of putting bread on the table for twelve more months. Watching some give up on their Australian dreams to ply their trade in England. Others still dropping out of the system, selectors deciding that they just aren’t cut out for Sheffield Shield cricket. It is survival of the fittest. The good prosper, the mediocre eventually fall by the wayside to find new livelihoods outside of the game (lifelines from a desperate South Australia notwithstanding). But there is one victim of 2015’s incarnation of this brutal process that makes this author especially disappointed. Goodbye, Jonathan Wells (a lifeline from a desperate South Australia notwithstanding).
An article providing an impassioned defence of Wells may seem like a questionable choice. His career average of 22 from upwards of 30 matches makes arguing against his omission from the First Class scene seem an impossibility. The hopeless ramblings of a deluded fanboy.
But your author has never been especially enamoured by Jonathan Wells. In fact, it’s his endearing quality. He’s always been ‘that other guy’ in the Tasmanian line-up, rarely cementing a spot in the team, and the first to lose his place for the next star import the Tigers attempted to lure down to the Apple Isle. Every few weeks, checking a Tasmania scorecard, there would be Wells. He’d be batting in whatever position the star imports didn’t want, usually #5, never quite getting the chance to settle into a particular role, and making starts without ever going on with them. He’d be throwing himself around in the field. He’d be training as hard as he possibly could, willing himself to finally break through and hold that spot.
But he never did. And the next week, he’d be back out of the team. He got his chance in T20 cricket, where the BBL expansion sufficiently diluted the talent pool to allow him a regular spot, and as a middle order everyman, simultaneously blending the ‘cake’ of strike rotation with the ‘icing’ that consists of big sixes and reverse sweeps, he actually performed quite well. His Futures League and Second XI career was poor, but since the start of the 2010/11 season he’s averaged 60.53 over 10 matches, with four centuries. In short, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that, given a role and allowed to stick with it, he has the talent to be a serviceable player.
In fact, his most recent seasons suggested that the prodigy who couldn’t might, after all, be becoming the prodigy who could. But now, having dedicated 8 prime years of his young life to Tasmania, giving all he had and receiving little recognition in return, he’s been passed over to allow Tasmania to throw a little more money at a young Queenslander and a New South Wales prodigy. And the cycle begins again.
Ignore that Tasmania lost their star opener this year, and had never quite found someone to partner him. Ignore that Wells has trained his heart out and started improving to a level of competence, if not brilliance, in the Sheffield Shield. Ignore that Tasmania already has four wicketkeepers. Ben McDermott comes in, likely with a guaranteed first XI spot, yet unlikely to immediately perform in the highest level of cricket he’s ever played.
If South Australia do not come to throw Wells a First Class lifeline, he’ll likely still turn out for Tasmania’s Futures League side. In all likelihood, he will captain them, probably making runs in the process. And when Tasmania’s star signings do not live up to expectations, he’ll likely be the one answering the call. Because that’s what Jono Wells has always been to Tasmania – the back-up plan – rarely afforded the value he deserved. As soon as he began to deliver on his promise, he outlived his utility to Tasmania.
It is unsurprising that Wells was delisted, but it’s a sad day for all the fringe Sheffield Shield batsmen of the world. Your days are numbered; the agribusiness is rising.