Battle over new contract system threatens to tear Australian cricket apart

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Storm brewing: Australian cricket.

Cricket has got a few things right over the years. The way administrators have managed to strike some sort of a balance between the three formats of the game deserves credit.

Test cricket has become a lot more result-oriented and the top teams in the world are seen to be giving more importance to health of the longest format of the game. T20 and the surfeit of leagues around the world brought up a new challenge for the establishment.

The exponential growth of the Indian Premier League and the rise of franchise-based T20 leagues across the globe – with England too planning one of their own – was supposed to signal the end of the longest form of the game. But that hasn’t happened.

Also, the level of professionalism in cricket has improved significantly, be it ground facilities or salaries. Players across the world, at least in most top nations, can now make a decent living by being just a cricketer. A T20 contract is the jackpot.

Another area where cricket has acted with alacrity is in the area of match fixing with numerous incidents coming to the fore and action taken on them swiftly. It may not be as strict as some would want, but it is at least an ongoing process with an honest effort made to catch the culprits. Or at least it makes more noise about the issue than other sports.

So on those fronts, good progress has been made. Where cricket has failed miserably is while dealing with players’ contracts.

Steve Smith.

Steve Smith.

You look at the fate of players in Sri Lanka, the West Indies and Zimbabwe over the years and it becomes clear they have not been taken care of by the boards despite being the driving force behind whatever revenue is being generated.

Sri Lankans fought with their board over their new contract ahead of the 2016 Zimbabwe tour while West Indies players and board have quarrelled over contracts more times than it is possible to remember.

Trouble is now brewing between Australian players and its board over payment structure. The players rejected a new payment structure that put an end to the two-decade old revenue-sharing model that linked player payments to the income generated by the sport.

The players believe the new structure would create a huge gap between international stars and domestic players. But Cricket Australia is having none of it.

While reports earlier stated it wanted to offer multi-year contracts to top players to lure them away from the IPL and keep them fit for national duty, relations between the board and players have quickly deteriorated with the board threatening no pay after June 30 – the day the current deal expires – unless the players agree to the new offer.

Yup, Australian cricket is facing a player-board crisis again. Do you remember the Kerry Packer led World Series Cricket in 1977? At that time, Australian media mogul Packer created a parallel tournament of the world’s leading players after failing to win the broadcast deal for Australian cricket.

That endeavour led to the advent of day night cricket, white ball games and coloured clothing. Now there is real danger of Australian players taking a radical step – read players’ strike – to force CA to accept their demands.

It’s not only Australia. Even Indian players are not happy with their pay structure. While the top-grade annual contract amount from the board was doubled to $300,000, the Indians are unhappy as that is still just a fraction of what top Australian players earn; Steven Smith’s annual contract is around $2 million.

That amount doesn’t include IPL fees or match fees. Next year, the IPL will get a new TV broadcast deal and if its value is greater than the $1 billion it received previously, then the league will be seen as a sanctuary for players, at least non-Indians, who are unhappy with the way they are treated by their boards.

Chris Gayle has become a mercenary, preferring to take care of himself rather than rely on board members. And while there might not be an exodus of players from the international scene soon, the pull of foreign T20 leagues will only get stronger for players if they continue to be pushed by their boards.

Cricket officials should remember that irrespective of the hard work they put in, it is the cricketer who runs the show and the billions sloshing around is sustained by the excellence of players.


Brothers Hardik and Krunal Pandya celebrate a victory in the IPL.

Brothers Hardik and Krunal Pandya celebrate a victory in the IPL.

They say you shouldn’t wash your dirty linen in public. But the Pandya brothers missed that class. On Saturday, Mumbai Indians all-rounder Hardik Pandya tweeted a cryptic message which read: “Sometimes in life, people closest to you end up disappointing you the most. Not cool, bro!”.

That message was for his brother and team-mate Krunal, who immediately replied: “This shouldn’t have happened in the first place. I am bade bhaiyya [big brother] for a reason. Let’s not make this a big issue!” Virender Sehwag then pushed himself into the twitter tussle, asking the brothers to not fight in public.

Whatever the issues, it is common sense not to air it on social media. But common sense is not that common, it seems.

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