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Smith, Lanning intervened in pay talks

Steven Smith, with Meg Lanning, called for an end to direct communication with the players with regards to their pay Cricket Australia

Australia's captains Steven Smith and Meg Lanning jointly contacted Cricket Australia to ask that the board respect the Australian Cricketers Association as the players' collective bargaining agent, and stated that further attempts to the deal directly with the players would be a distraction from the performances of the national teams.

As the board and the ACA attempt to work through drastically divergent positions over an MOU due for renewal in June, ESPNcricinfo has learned that Smith and Lanning felt compelled to write to CA chief executive James Sutherland, in a letter co-signed by their deputies David Warner and Alex Blackwell.

The correspondence, delivered between the Brisbane and Melbourne Test matches against Pakistan last December, after talks between the two parties broke down, asked Sutherland that CA deal with the ACA as the players' representative and called for ending attempts to go around the association by communicating directly with the players. The ACA confirmed the existence of the letter when contacted by ESPNcricinfo.

It followed the invitation of Smith and Warner, alongside national team coach Darren Lehmann, to a dinner with the CA board directors and executives two days before the Melbourne ODI against New Zealand on December 9. That was trailed by a series of emailed communications from CA to all national and state-contracted players in Australia that sought to explain the board's position.

These included CA's full initial submission, which stated among other things that only the top male contracted players deserved to continue to earn a fixed percentage of Australian cricket revenue. By contrast, the ACA are seeking, in a unified agreement for men and women, to expand the revenue-sharing model to include all players and also an expanded definition of that revenue. The MOU has not previously included female players.

A subsequent email from team performance manager Pat Howard to the players sought to clarify the board's pregnancy clause after it became the subject of heated argument during the Gabba Test against Pakistan. That email, in which Howard reiterated his view that he did not want to see the players become "the meat in the sandwich", was a catalyst for the national team's leaders to indicate to Sutherland that they were feeling quite the opposite.

Earlier that week, CA had suspended negotiations with the ACA on the premise that the public slanging match between the two parties had begun to use oxygen that would otherwise be occupied by the Test matches and the Big Bash League.

"Cricket Australia is committed to a negotiation that is conducted in good faith between the two parties," CA said in a statement at the time, "but will not take part in a process which seeks to draw its players into a public dispute. Players deserve the opportunity to focus on the game, rather than being distracted by a negotiation that should be conducted in a professional and confidential manner."

Sutherland had previously kept at arm's length from MOU negotiations, leaving them largely to CA's head of strategy and people Kevin Roberts, head of team performance Howard, and David Peever, the CA chairman. Peever, an advocate of industrial relations reform when he was managing director of the mining giant Rio Tinto, has also involved his own IR advisor Ken Bacon.

Smith and Lanning's letter confirmed beyond doubt that the players were not wavering in their stance alongside the ACA, and that they wished to see negotiations resume in a more constructive manner. When Sutherland next spoke publicly about the breakdown in talks, he offered the most conciliatory words from the board in some weeks.

"I think the facts of the matter are that both organisations have a lot more in common than they have not, and from that perspective, it's all in the interest of the game, ensuring the game's better," Sutherland told ABC Radio during the Boxing Day Test.

This week, Sutherland said the two parties still have an enormous amount of ground to cover. "I don't think we're close to a resolution," he said. "We've got to work through a process of discussion on all sorts of different issues, there's an agreement with a whole lot of different components to it.

"Perhaps a little more complicated than it has been before where we're wanting to professionalise the women's game even more and to make sure there's one collective agreement for men and women, so all those things need to be stepped through. We've got plenty of time, but at the same time, there are plenty of things to discuss. We're down to it and we'll progress, I'm confident of that."