The Australian women's team will come face to face with Cricket Australia's chairman David Peever, chief executive James Sutherland and the board of directors at a gala event on Saturday, as the pay dispute with the Australian Cricketers Association creeps to within a month of major dislocation to the game.
Clea Smith and Jodie Fields, both key members of ACA staff, have been invited to the event at the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane as members of past women's World Cup winning squads. The function was devised to recognise the achievements of those players and award them retrospective winners' medals, but will also offer a rare chance for members of the two opposing parties in the pay dispute to meet in less formal circumstances.
On the day Sutherland again pressed CA's case to break-up the fixed revenue percentage model that has existed for the past 20 years, ESPNcricinfo has learned that the board is eager to resume talks on less confrontational ground. These would start with discussion of the principles shared by CA and the players in the board's pay offer, with no intention of "trapping" the ACA into agreeing to the full offer and thus an end to revenue sharing.
In acknowledging how relations between CA and the ACA have broken down over the past four years, the board believes that initial talks based around common ground, such as the need for women's pay to rise substantially, would help to develop a better rapport between the parties. That would then be useful when the fundamental sticking points - namely CA's intent to end revenue sharing and the ACA's to retain it - are discussed.
Numerous past collective bargaining negotiations between sport governing bodies and players' representatives have begun this way, not least concurrent talks going on to reach a new deal between the AFL and the AFL Players Association, helmed by the former ACA chief executive Paul Marsh.
His successor Alistair Nicholson has been thwarted in his efforts to build a CEO-to-CEO relationship with Sutherland, and has instead had to deal with CA's lead MOU negotiator Kevin Roberts and the recently departed cricket operations chief Sean Cary. One attempt by CA to get the two negotiating teams together in the less formal setting of a BBL match last summer was cancelled when the board suspended negotiations in December ahead of the Boxing Day Test.
On Thursday CA released their formal pay offer to the players, originally revealed on ESPNcricinfo, via the board's website. This arrived as part of a board public relations campaign Sutherland described as no longer "sitting on our hands". Sutherland, who helped bring the dispute to its current pitch of tension by threatening to leave all out of contract players unemployed if an agreement is not reached by the June 30 expiry of the current MOU, argued that "there aren't many people in Australia" being offered an overall payment pool increase of 15% for the next year. The majority of that increase is taken up by increases to payments for women, while domestic male players face an effective freeze on their wages for state competitions.
"In some quarters, we're being perceived as being hard or unfair on the players in this situation," Sutherland told the Guardian. "But it's important to note that we have a player payment pool in this current year of $79m, and our proposal for next year is for a player payment pool of $91m. That's a 15% increase. There aren't many people in Australia getting an increase like that, or have an offer like that on the table.
"We understand that 71% of what we spend our money on basically relates to elite and high performance cricket. Another 17% relates to what we call running the game. Just 12% goes to grassroots cricket. We need to find ways to increase that. It's not enough.
"We've identified that through a lot of reviews we've done leading into this new strategic planning cycle. While the ACA has addressed [grassroots] to some extent, they don't know anywhere near the detail we do in terms of what is involved in managing these issues both at an operational level and at a strategic and policy level."
Sutherland also noted that the "status" of the Sheffield Shield was at issue in the debate. "People are used to the model and feel like they're losing ground," he said. "Status is not a bad word for it actually. I understand that there's an element of this that's about preserving the status and tradition of Sheffield Shield, for example, in the whole makeup of Australian cricket."