Australian contract priorities wrong - Arthur
Mickey Arthur, the coach of Western Australia, believes Australia has handicapped its chances of returning to the No.1 spot in the world Test rankings by docking the pay of international aspirants on state contracts to offer more money to Twenty20 specialists.
Players and state associations around the country have been digesting the weighting of contracts under the new MOU for state and national player payments, with the sizeable reduction in money available for state contracts causing plenty of discontent.
Where last summer a Sheffield Shield player was able to earn up to A$140,000 a season, now the maximum has been cut to $115,000, while the minimum state contract has been reduced from $50,000 to $40,000. Contract numbers have been reduced from a maximum of 20 to a maximum of 18.
State players who do not also earn a Big Bash League contract will be afforded a "top-up" payment, but the incentive to concentrate on first-class cricket has been substantially reduced.
Arthur, who has said he sees plenty of talent available to return Australia to the pinnacle of the global game provided it is managed adroitly, was adamant that this approach was wrong-headed.
"To be honest it has been very difficult with the amount of money available to keep all your squad happy, and personally I think it's the wrong way round," Arthur told ESPNcricinfo. "Your biggest salary cap should be your state contracts with the smaller salary cap being your Big Bash. If we're really serious in Australia about getting Australia to the No.1 Test playing side in the world, we should be reflecting that in our salary caps and budgets.
"You can (feel the squeeze) just through the salary caps that we have to work with. You're getting a bigger salary cap for six weeks' work over the holiday period than you are for trying to make yourself a Test cricketer. I think that's the wrong way round.
"It's no secret that all of the players around all of the states have been very disappointed by their contracts, and that just reflects the salary cap we had to work with. It's been a really tough contracting process."
Paul Marsh, chief executive of the players union, has previously defended the balance by saying he had "tried to balance Test and one-day cricket in this model so players are still motivated to play all three forms of the game".
"The total player-payment pool is going up by 10%. There's a 6% reduction in the CA retainer pool, the state retainer pool is reduced by about 30%, but then you've got this new pool of Big Bash money," Marsh told ESPNcricinfo in a feature interview. "So everyone will get two contracts: the traditional contracts are going to be less, but they will get a Big Bash contract on top of that. So all things being equal, players are going to push forward here. We have thought of all these different scenarios, and I honestly think we have maintained that prioritisation of Test cricket as well as we can."
Western Australia have unveiled a trio of new signings to the state squad, all seasoned players designed to compliment a young squad that will need the guidance of experience if it is to bloom into a group of Australian representatives.
As the coach of the Perth Scorchers in the BBL, Arthur has mapped out his own T20 squad, but is yet to secure it via contracts, which cannot be offered until the state rounds are complete. Cricket Australia has had its hands full trying to maintain the integrity of that process, as state associations peer expectantly over at the talent available elsewhere.
"First and foremost we've picked a side of must-haves, and we've tried to incorporate all of those guys in our salary cap," Arthur said. "It does become difficult when one guy that you're chasing, and I suppose you can think of Chris Gayle, he's not going to come cheap, so you could realistically have a guy like Chris Gayle taking one fifth of your salary cap.
"So it is quite tough, but I've put together a team and squad that I feel we need, and hopefully we can secure. Then for your replacement players there is going to be a bit of jostling in the market for them."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo