Australia pay dispute: Are the Ashes really under threat?

David Warner has been vocal in his support of the cricketers' union
David Warner has been vocal in his support of the cricketers' union

What a mess. There's no other way to describe the fact the deadline has passed for Australia's cricketers to pen a pay deal with the board and no agreement is in place.

The result? Unemployment with immediate effect. The implications? Vast. The Ashes? Who knows.

Why is this happening?

Cricket Australia (CA) has to craft a Memorandum of Understanding with the players - represented by the Australian Cricketers' Association (ACA) - every five years.

It is, essentially, a contract between the game's governing body in Australia and its players.

After months of public disagreements, a deadline was imposed for a deal to be reached and it has now passed without resolution.

With the previous agreement now formally expired, it means more than 200 players in CA's employment are out of contract.

How did the disagreement start?

The bitter seeds were sown as far back as December.

Then, CA responded forcefully to the players' union highlighting draft contract documents suggesting women cricketers would be obliged to disclose pregnancies before being signed.

It suspended talks with immediate effect, saying it would come back to the table in January.

It was an initial foray that lasted the duration of December's Brisbane Test match. It reflected that bad blood was brewing. Really bad blood.

So it's about more than just salaries?

Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland wants to divert more money to grassroots cricket
Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland wants to divert more money to grassroots cricket

Yes. What got the players and their representatives irreversibly offside from a more enduring policy perspective was CA's formal offer, issued in March, removing a key tenet of industrial agreements since 1997 known as the revenue-sharing model.

Under this, anywhere from a fifth to a quarter of all CA incomings has been returned to players above their annual retainers.

In CA's proposal, that arrangement was wound up for state cricketers - both men and women - with a version retained for international players.

Administrators believe revenue sharing is now unsustainable and want to re-route more money to grassroots cricket at the expense of additional windfalls for state players, who - they argue - receive salaries as good as any in Australian sport.

International and female state players also stand to receive sizeable salary increases as part of the reallocation. Australian representatives, for example, will see their pay jump to $180,000 (£106,239) a year if CA's proposal goes ahead, a boost of 125% on the current average.

Meanwhile, male state players - those playing in the Sheffield Shield - are still due to have their annual salaries jump from $199,000 (£117,453) to $234,000 (£138,110) across the 2017-2022 window.

Now they're 'unemployed', will the players back down?

That seems unlikely at present.

The players, from national captain Steve Smith down, are adamant their state colleagues should be entitled to exactly the arrangement they have always had, not least because they are central to the T20 Big Bash League, which has become a huge success during the Australian summer.

The threshold issue, as the players see it, is if administrators want to find money for other laudable pursuits, then there is plenty splashing around in CA coffers compared to previously.

CA's position was tempered slightly last week, as it said players could share in profits (as opposed to revenue), the amended offer also including another boost to state retainers.

That was, however, promptly rejected by the ACA, which argued near enough wasn't good enough.

Are Cricket Australia likely to cave?

It doesn't appear so. The latest chapter in the unflattering battle saw administrators again flexing their muscles.

Rejecting repeated requests for mediation, they instead insisted players would be banned for six months if exhibition games were played by the now freelancers in their time away from national deals.

CA says the million-plus dollars a fortnight saved in player wages will now be redirected into funding for club facilities in need of a facelift.

There's no candour or contrition here. They're on a war footing as well.

Are the Ashes under threat?

Australia won the Ashes last time it was held down under, in 2010-11
Australia won the Ashes last time it was held down under, in 2013-14

When an email was circulated to the players from CA chief executive James Sutherland detailing the stark reality that players would not be paid beyond 30 June, David Warner's words made headlines across the cricketing world.

He suggested there would be no Australia team to pick from for the Ashes.

There's still a long way until that first Test against England on 26 November, with Australia due to play a Test series in Bangladesh from 27 August before a limited-overs trip to India.

An A team tour to South Africa also gets under way in the next fortnight. It's difficult to see how that can proceed.

In the short term, a meeting with the ACA is scheduled for Sunday.

The ACA has said it will begin seeking sponsorships for the separate company it has established to collectively manage players' intellectual property rights in the absence of CA arrangements.

Deadline day may have passed, but the Ashes is the true marker of disaster.

If that tour is cancelled, heads will roll. And rightly so.

Top Stories