Aussies on sticky wicket over pay

The New Age (KwaZulu-Natal) - - Sport -

A BIT­TER pay dis­pute between Aus­tralia’s crick­eters and the na­tional board ap­pears to re­main un­re­solved by to­day’s dead­line, leav­ing more than 200 play­ers un­em­ployed and the up­com­ing se­ries against Bangladesh and Eng­land in jeop­ardy.

Eleventh hour talks have failed to pro­duce a break­through this week and re­la­tions have soured to the point that the play­ers’ union is re­fus­ing to deal with Cricket Aus­tralia’s (CA) lead ne­go­tia­tor.

The Aus­tralian Crick­eters’ As­so­ci­a­tion (ACA) has de­manded CA’s long-serv­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive James Suther­land step up to the deal­ing ta­ble and help end a stand­off that could trig­ger a dam­ag­ing round of player boy­cotts.

The ex­ist­ing pay deal, known as the mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing (MoU), will ex­pire at mid­night tonight, two days be­fore play­ers se­lected for an Aus­tralia A tour of South Africa are to re­port for a train­ing camp in Bris­bane.

CA has re­mained silent on Suther­land’s in­ten­tions but high per­for­mance boss Pat Howard has made the board’s po­si­tion clear. Howard warned play­ers in an email on Wed­nes­day not to sign with other spon­sors or play in “dis­ap­proved” cricket in case it put them “at risk” of a fu­ture CA con­tract.

The stick­ing point re­mains the ar­gu­ment over a rev­enue share scheme, which has un­der­pinned con­tracts for 20 years. The model has helped make Aus­tralia’s crick­eters among the best paid in the world but CA said it no longer fits com­mer­cial re­al­i­ties and is rob­bing the grass-roots of vi­tal fund­ing.

“Things have changed. Cricket has changed sig­nif­i­cantly,” the board’s for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive Mal­colm Speed told lo­cal me­dia this week.

Speed was in charge of the gov­ern­ing body, then named the Aus­tralian Cricket Board, when it re­luc­tantly struck the orig­i­nal rev­enue-shar­ing model with play­ers in 1997.

“It doesn’t make sense for the crick­eters to say, ‘We like this model, we want to stick with it come hell or high wa­ter’.”

CA made a re­vised of­fer to play­ers last week, its first con­ces­sion in six months. Its pledge to share “in­ter­na­tional sur­pluses” with all do­mes­tic play­ers fell short of the union’s de­mand for a share of over­all rev­enues and was quickly re­jected.

Prom­i­nent play­ers, in­clud­ing cap­tain Steve Smith, have been vo­cal in back­ing the ACA’s hard-line stance, but their re­solve will not truly be tested un­til they wake up to­mor­row morn­ing with no deal on the ta­ble.

The ACA’s in­tegrity is also threat­ened by the di­ver­sity of its mem­ber­ship, which in­volves dif­fer­ing pri­or­i­ties for men, women and in­ter­na­tional play­ers ver­sus do­mes­tic crick­eters.

While about 230 play­ers may be with­out con­tracts by to­mor­row, some 70 will still be teth­ered to state con­tracts and will be still ex­pected to train and play re­gard­less of whether a new MoU is struck.

A num­ber of state-con­tracted play­ers were se­lected for the Aus­tralia A tour, open­ing up a po­ten­tial rift between play­ers who stand to gain noth­ing from tour­ing South Africa and those who would still be paid and mo­ti­vated to press their claims for se­lec­tion at in­ter­na­tional level.

The ACA is ex­pected to hold a meet­ing on Sun­day to dis­cuss the road ahead, in­clud­ing whether play­ers would go ahead with the Aus­tralia A tour.

From there, the stakes get pro­gres­sively higher, with a two-Test se­ries in Bangladesh start­ing in Au­gust, a one-day in­ter­na­tional se­ries in In­dia in Oc­to­ber and the five-Test Ashes se­ries at home to Eng­land kick­ing off in Novem­ber.

The last two com­pe­ti­tions are vi­tal sources of rev­enue for CA and the dis­pute will be dimly viewed by lo­cal rights holder Chan­nel Nine, which is set to mar­ket the Ashes to ad­ver­tis­ing clients next week, ac­cord­ing to Fairfax me­dia.

Aus­tralia’s top play­ers may be able to weather a lock­out in­def­i­nitely and carve out lu­cra­tive ca­reers as free agents on the global Twenty20 cir­cuit.

But there is far less se­cu­rity for the lower tier of do­mes­tic play­ers, some of whom could be tempted to break ranks if of­fered a chance to se­cure a baggy, green cap, even with its pres­tige dimmed by the ab­sence of the most de­serv­ing crick­eters.

A more likely outcome may be that play­ers and the board strike agree­ments on a se­ries-by-se­ries ba­sis un­til an over­ar­ch­ing MoU can be set­tled. That could take time in a cli­mate of dis­trust.

“Dur­ing the process a whole heap of trust has been lost, it’s pretty hard to re­cover that,” for­mer play­ers’ boss Tim May said. – Reuters

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