Australia's players have implored Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland to intervene in the current pay dispute less than four days before the expiry of the existing MoU.
Flanked by senior players at an annual golf day, the Australian Cricketers' Association president Greg Dyer stated it was well past time for talks to involve the two most senior executives of the board and the players' collective bargaining agent, a matter of days before the two parties "jump off a cliff together" into the unknown.
Sutherland, chief executive of CA since 2001, is flying home from England after attending the ICC Annual Conference and Australia's opening match of the Women's World Cup in Taunton. As one of the early architects of the fixed revenue percentage model that has underpinned all MoUs since 1998, Sutherland may be well placed to bring an end to the dispute.
To do so he would have find a middle ground between the players and the CA board and management, intent on breaking up the model and severely reducing the ACA's influence.
"James Sutherland has been strangely absent to date from these negotiations and we want him involved, we want him engaged," Dyer said. "It's beyond time that CA sent its most senior executive to the negotiating table and let's get this sorted out, the two CEOs sitting down and having a sensible conversation about how this can be resolved.
"I think it's fair to say we still remain a long way apart. The fundamentals of the deal are nowhere near resolved. We see the retention of the revenue share model as being fundamental from our perspective and we have not been able to engage sensibly. The players have been very flexible, they've said we can look at alternative ways of addressing that revenue share model, but we've not had any response in return. We've twice sought mediation and called for the intervention of the CEO, and we've not had any reasonable response to any of those requests.
"It's the most important deal that CA will do in five years and arguably longer. I don't personally understand why the most senior person in the organisation shouldn't be involved in setting those parameters on behalf of the organisation. I don't understand why he wouldn't be involved. James Sutherland is in fact overseas right now, so we have to wait for his return and then maybe we can make some progress."
Shane Watson, meanwhile, questioned how Sutherland's experience could be so absent from talks. Sutherland's only major contribution has been to announce CA's formal offer to the players in April followed by a a terse email to the ACA chief executive Alistair Nicholson in May, warning the players would be unemployed as of July 1 unless they agreed to the board's terms.
"Nothing's irreparable, time heals most wounds, but it's incredibly disappointing from a cricketer's point of view, knowing CA's really changed its dynamic over the last five years," Watson said. "It's become very corporatised, not just a governing body of the game of cricket, with all the board members and how it's actually changed. Everyone believed at that moment in time it was a great thing for the game of cricket to bring the corporate side of business into cricket.
"It's moved in a very different way compared to what it was, with the CEO not being involved in the negotiations. James is a bit of an expert in negotiations with his previous experiences and this time he's not even involved in this one, which just bewilders me how that happens, someone who knows the ins and outs of how things work in MoU negotiations has not actually been involved. Hopefully that'll happen over the next few days and we might be able to come closer to a resolution."
One major implication for the post-June 30 landscape is that Australian players may seek opportunities to play in T20 tournaments in the West Indies, England, Bangladesh and South Africa, a competition in which ESPNcricinfo has reported recent ODI representatives have formally notified their interest in. All players require a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from their home board to take part, but Watson was in little doubt legal challenges would swiftly follow any CA moves to block them from seeking employment.
"Any sort of compromise in the form of tour-based or short-term contracts can only be made if there is progress at the negotiating table." - ACA president Greg Dyer"
"If CA knock back an NOC then that's a significant restraint of trade as well," Watson said. "In the end I've got a BBL contract and of course I've got to get an NOC signed, but for them to restrict my potential to be able to actually play and be employed somewhere else, I think there'd be some pretty serious legal issues there.
"At the end, on July 1 if all the cricketers are unemployed then there's opportunities to play in different parts of the world which I'm fortunate enough to be involved with at this point of time in my career, whether it's the Caribbean league, the Bangladesh league, the South African league that's coming up as well. So there's plenty of opportunity, but hopefully it should not get to that. It should never have got to this stage where we are now with three days to go and it seems like we're poles apart in the negotiations.
"[A long dispute] would be a disaster. In the end everyone wants the best players playing all the time for Australia, anytime a tour comes up and especially in the lead-up to an Ashes series as well. The dream of any Australian cricketer is to play in that series. so if the lead-up doesn't go to plan because the players aren't able to play high quality cricket in the lead-up to it, then we certainly don't want to give the English an upper hand in an Ashes series. The players certainly don't want that and I'm sure Cricket Australia don't want that. But where things are at it's not looking great."
Other issues looming in the dispute include the status of players on multi-year state contracts - deals that CA have insisted they will continue to honour after July 1. However, the ACA argue that without a working MoU they will carry little weight. It appears highly unlikely that in an extended dispute any players would make themselves available to CA, whether under contract or not.
"The players are very resilient," Dyer said. "As we've gone further into this, and each time CA has effectively gone around the ACA and direct to players, which was specifically not what the players wanted, their resolve has strengthened. So their attitude to Australia A and other tours beyond that I don't see them as being likely to change their views.
"The foundation of those multi-year contracts is a revenue share arrangement. So to the extent that that revenue share arrangement is off the table, then those contracts are highly questionable."
Given how little time remains before the MoU expiry, some sort of compromise in the form of tour-based or short-term contracts would be required for Australia's players to fulfil their commitments. However Dyer said the players would only be likely to submit to these sorts of deals - of the kind the women's team are currently signed to for the WWC - in the event of progress at the negotiating table.
"I think we'd have to see some progress before that would be a likely outcome, but that's not impossible," he said. "If we can make some progress, if the CEOs can get together and make some progress towards an outcome then tour contracts may well be a good short term resolution. But we're still so far apart it's difficult to imagine that's where we're going to end."
CA last week offered key concessions to the players in terms of adding domestic as well as international players to their proposed "profit sharing" arrangement, while also promising to increase the pay levels being offered to domestic male players. "It lacked detail, it lacked any sense of the method by which the thing was going to be calculated, it wasn't sufficient," Dyer said. "We still lack the financial detail to properly assess where the players are likely to end up, and so it wasn't an offer which was capable of acceptance and CA knew that."