Clarke fears for team if pay dispute drags
Australia's former captain Michael Clarke has implored Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers Association to agree to a 12-month rollover of the most recent MoU and negotiate the game's next collective agreement behind closed doors, before further damage is done to the game and a national team in transition.
The last MoU, signed when Clarke was captain in 2012, was completed 12 months later than originally planned due to a pair of intractable issues - potential privatisation of Big Bash League clubs and a proposed redevelopment of the WACA Ground - with a one-year interim agreement signed in the meantime. Clarke, who said he "hated" coming home to see coverage of the pay dispute take precedence over the concurrent Women's World Cup, said both parties had to consider the game's wider interests.
Specifically, he pointed to a developing Australian side that had lost to South Africa at home, India away and been knocked out of the recent ICC Champions Trophy as a key reason to stop the players from being placed in the middle of the dispute. With a home Ashes summer looming, Clarke feared for the prospects of the team captained by Steven Smith unless they were able to prepare adequately.
"I think what needs to happen is keep the current MoU for the next 12 months, allow the players to get back to what we do best, train, prepare, get some important cricket in," Clarke said at Channel Nine's Ashes launch in Sydney. "The women are playing a World Cup now, massive tournament. The Aussie [men] have got Bangladesh tour, India tour and then the Ashes. Allow the players to concentrate wholly and solely on that. The ACA and CA, please go behind closed doors and do this in private.
"The two MoUs I was around for got extended [2011 to 2012], weren't done by June 30, they got extended so I don't see any difference here. Keep the same MoU for 12 months to allow negotiations to continue. My main concern is players want to play for their country, so let's allow them to play while this stuff is getting sorted out in the background."
More than 230 players were left out of contract when the most recent MoU expired on July 1, with neither side countenancing a rollover of the deal amid a relationship that has grown increasingly toxic. The Australia A squad is presently at a training camp in Brisbane but all players have expressed their strong objection to undertaking any international commitments in the absence of working MoU, whether under contract to their states or not.
"I don't want the Australian players to be underprepared because they've been focused on something else," Clarke said. "So give them 12 months let the players concentrate on the cricket. I don't want to see any cricket missed, because I know how important preparation is as a player. We lost to South Africa in Australia, we got knocked out of the Champions Trophy, we lost to India in India. As a playing group we need to make sure we're 100% focused on our preparation, because the cricket we've got coming up is tough.
"I hate the fact I've arrived home from England and this is taking media coverage over [cricket]. The women are on fire in England in the World Cup and not even getting a look-in, because the MoU's taking up those pages. I think it's bad for the game. Everyone will say 'Michael you take the players' side' because I feel like I was playing yesterday and know those guys so well. I do want what's best for the game."
Given the bitterness of the dispute, Clarke said he was concerned about the prospect of political machinations being behind the two parties' drastically opposed positions. He was also worried about how much either side of the debate had considered how it would be possible for the two bodies to work together after a new MOU is signed, given how much trust has been lost.
"The international players, men and women, are the face of our game, they need to be looked after," he said. "Young girls and boys grow up, watching their idols on television and that's why they want to play for Australia, so the players definitely need to be looked after. But in the same breath I've always believed it's important that our game continue to go [up]. Every boy and girl in this country has the opportunity to play what I think is the best game in the world.
"If they're our two greatest priorities, then to me this will sort itself out - there will be a compromise. If there's other priorities in front of those two things, that makes me nervous. It's important both parties remember ... you are going to have to work together very closely. I think both parties need to keep that in the front of their minds."
A rollover of the current MoU has two major roadblocks. The first is that CA's strident opposition to revenue sharing would mean prolonging the previous arrangement would be seen as a backdown by the board in the face of player power. The second is that the 2012 MoU did not include women, who have been direct employees of CA but are now set to be part of the next MoU shared jointly with the male players.
The national talent manager and selector Greg Chappell and the Australia A coach Jason Gillespie also spoke about the dispute on Monday in Brisbane, and did their best to play down its significance. "I'm expecting we'll see a resolution, a positive resolution, in not too distant a future and we'll get back to focusing on the cricket," Chappell said. "These things go on from time to time. I'm sure you guys from the media love the conversation but I don't think it's quite as big a story from inside.
"I understand both sides of the argument. I expect a resolution and a positive resolution fairly soon. There are very good people on both sides of the table and they're working hard towards getting a satisfactory resolution. I expect a positive resolution and everyone to get on with cricket. So once that happens, I think most of this will fall by the wayside. This is a good, healthy debate which you need to have from time to time and positive things will come out of it."
Gillespie, an emerging coach but also a player who has benefited from the revenue sharing model that the ACA is so eager to keep in place, said he was intent on ensuring the Australia A squad trained this week as though the tour would be going ahead without a hitch.
"It's an interesting situation, isn't it? I'm not involved in any of these negotiations whatever," he said. "So as a coach, [I've looked to ensure] the players looked prepared as well as we can. We have to have the attitude as if we're going to be travelling. I've spoken with other coaches of Cricket Australia, our focus is: let's prepare as well as we can to be on tour let's see what happens.
"I'd like to think the two sides get together and come to a resolution and we can get on that plane and go to South Africa. I think it will be a wonderful opportunity for the players, you know, to do well. Players would love to play cricket. Everyone wants to represent their country. The two sides get talking... what we're hearing is they'll be talking this week, you know and the players have shown good faith in coming up to train and prepare as if we're going on the tour. So we just have to wait that out."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig