Cricket Australia's decision to rebuff the players' calls for mediation to end the escalating pay dispute has been accompanied by another attempt to deal directly with some of the nation's highest-profile players.
CA's chief executive James Sutherland and his Australian Cricketers' Association (ACA) counterpart Alistair Nicholson are set to cross paths in London over the next week, and it is clear a sharp change of course will be required to take the heat out of a dispute that is creeping perilously close to the June 30 expiry of the current MoU without any resolution in sight.
After a week's deliberation, CA chairman David Peever wrote to his ACA counterpart Greg Dyer on Friday to reject the mediation request while maintaining his view that the players' association had not yet started to negotiate. It also emerged on Saturday that the team performance manager Pat Howard had written to Steven Smith, Meg Lanning, David Warner, Alex Blackwell, Mitchell Johnson, Josh Hazlewood and Ellyse Perry to again press the board's case.
Peever's letter to Dyer emphasised CA's refusal to countenance any form of fixed revenue percentage model while accusing the ACA of not attempting to negotiate. "This is a regrettable approach because CA's proposal features substantial increases in player payments while allowing greater flexibility to address the underfunding of grassroots cricket over the next five years," Peever wrote.
"You indicate that the ACA has offered flexibility within the negotiation process around certain issues. However, this does not address the significant problems with the current player payments model from CA's perspective. While we fully respect the enormous contribution made by the game's elite players, it is also true that player payments have grown by 63 per cent for international men and 53 per cent for domestic men over the past five years."
These words were echoed by Sutherland in a column in The Australian newspaper, which also reported Howard's approach to key players, which he said insisted CA's offer was fair while also questioning whether the players had read its financial details for themselves.
"During the player period at the NCC, it became clear to me that very few players have actually read the CA offer," Howard wrote. "As leaders of Australian cricket, you need to review the actual offer and ask questions. My view as leaders of the game is that your duty is to cricket, not CA, not ACA, but cricket.
"This year players will benefit from $79m, our offer next year is $91m. This is a pay rise of over $12m or over 15 per cent. I heard from some quarters that Cricket Australia was 'screwing us', as you can see, that is not the case. These are like-for-like numbers and include all male and female players.
"BBL salaries will go up 6 per cent every year. Yes, we are trying to put a lid on big increases to state cricket; however, both BBL (6%) and state (1.4%) are going up. I don't apologise for putting international players ahead of domestic players. (Under) our offer, Australian cricket wages are the highest in the world for males and females and the highest for any team sport in Australia. Something we are proud of."
Howard also expressed discontent that he had been unable to communicate more directly with the players about the pay issue, as distrust grows on both sides of the argument. In response, the ACA said the board was continuing to play "word games" while also questioning how the game's grassroots could be so underfunded when CA retained 80 cents out of every dollar in the game's revenue.
"These are the word games and evasions of the last six months, and a window into the negotiations over the same period," an ACA spokesman said. "The CA strategy is to refuse to deal with the ACA and go directly to individual players to try and break the model. This is despite the players' repeated insistence for CA to respect their request and mediate with the ACA. To refuse mediation at a time when it's the only sensible way forward shows a clear lack of common sense.
"CA takes 80 cents in every dollar that comes into the game: that's 80% of revenue, yet blames the players for under expenditure on grassroots. CA's grassroots argument therefore has no factual basis. What CA forget is that the players themselves are the ones that have invested around $10million of their own money in to delivering grassroots programs. The most often asked question in this current climate is the right one: Where does all the revenue go?"
The board's public emphasis on the need for more grassroots facilities funding formed only a part of its formal pay offer to the players. That document also pressed the case for an expanded media production unit and game development staff to rival those of the AFL, and a desire to invest in "other projects" capable of generating more revenue for CA.