Ongoing dispute could leave all ashen-faced
OPINION: Cricket’s pay talks have taken another unexpected twist – and this time it’s left many observers baffled and truly fearing the implications for this summer’s Ashes series.
An email from Australian Cricketers Association chief Alistair Nicholson to players on Saturday has escalated tensions almost to breaking point.
It had already been reported that this summer’s Ashes series was under threat if a new pay deal was not brokered. But now Nicholson is saying that even if the ACA and Cricket Australia tentatively agreed to a new memorandum of understanding this week, there still may not be enough time to complete the fine print by November 23 – day one of the Ashes opener in Brisbane.
The players ideally want a 700-page agreement signed off, which is a lot of work for administrators and lawyers to do before England arrive. But a heads of agreement would most likely be enough for the summer to go ahead.
‘‘Given past experience and the massive detail involved, this would take some time and still may not be completed with time enough to meet the needs of fans, sponsors and broadcasters invested in the upcoming tours and the summer of cricket,’’ Nicholson said.
CA officials were baffled by the ACA’s move to declare talks had stalled on Friday. ‘‘It’s a stunt,’’ said one observer. That became ‘‘perplexing’’ on Saturday when Nicholson reinforced his union’s stance.
This came amid claims from the ACA that CA had all but rejected a ‘‘terms sheet’’ of common-ground issues the two parties had built up over the past fortnight. CA has claimed the terms sheet was unsolicited and carries no weight in negotiations.
CA had thought negotiations were progressing, if not well, but at least progressing. That CA had still delivered an agenda to the ACA on Friday ahead of Monday’s resumption of talks at least showed the two warring parties were prepared to chat. Nicholson and CA counterpart James Sutherland had even been in contact via telephone and email on Friday.
But a bomb was dropped at 5pm, soon after the ACA had held a two-hour board meeting. Enough was enough, the ACA said, all but declaring it felt the CA would not agree to the six-point solutions, including the revenue share model, the players had wanted to break the deadlock.
The response since has been mixed. CA was flabbergasted. Some players are baffled at the lack of progress. One former longtime Sheffield Shield player, an original ACA foundation member, was moved to contact the Sydney Morning Herald and warn that the union was ‘‘losing the rank and file membership support on this’’.
What should be of greater concern for two two parties is how the public will react. For some, it’s of little consequence.
Everyone has their own lives – and worries – to deal with. For many, player wages – and those of the CA executive – are seen as more than healthy, even exorbitant. But that’s the market they are in, and market forces shape what they are paid. For others, the players taking a stand is a commendable act. Some will also side with CA.
Until this point, the drama has been played out with overseas series at stake. The Southern Stars’ World Cup campaign went ahead because the women did not fall under the current MOU (the blame game as to why they were not has also been a source of debate), and tour contracts were struck months ago.
An Australia A tour of South Africa was scrapped but, for the public, it was of little consequence. Although some players, as told to Sydney Morning Herald, were so shattered they were in tears, while two allegedly claimed they would have played for free.
But if this saga drags on, and a test series in Bangladesh is dumped, and the ensuing one-day series in India also falls, meaning the Ashes are in doubt, be warned – the public could turn off the sport for a long, long time. So, too, the lifeblood of the sport, sponsors and broadcasters.
Remember, CA will soon go to market for a new international and domestic broadcast rights deal – how would that ‘‘sell’’ go if there is no on-field ‘‘product’’ this summer? It’s this money that bankrolls the sport.
Players said on July 2 they could be sub-contracted through the ACA to play in the Ashes, but that now looks unlikely. Anyway, how would that work? How much preparation would they have? Against who? In terms of the wider picture, how would it look to their fellow brethren, presumably still unemployed, that the test stars were able to compete in cricket’s biggest series – and be paid – while they twiddle their thumbs. By that stage, there surely would be statebased players seeking help through the ACA’s hardship fund.
It’s not just the Ashes that are at stake. The marquee domestic event of the summer, the growing beast that is the Big Bash League, is surely in doubt following Nicholson’s email. The likes of Steve Smith, David Warner and Mitchell Starc, as we know, have little, or nothing, to do with the BBL because of their international commitments. But with only about 70 state-based current players with multi-year contracts, how could the BBL go ahead, even with overseas imports?
That would be a disaster for CA, the states and players, although Channel Ten, fighting to keep its doors open, might be happy to take the $20 million back is still owes CA.
It’s difficult not to think mediation is now needed, as the philosophies of the two parties are at odds.
Yesterday, the ACA publicly released details of the six-point plan it had sent to players on Saturday. It labelled its submission as a ‘‘peace plan’’ in a bid to end the nine-month pay impasse.