Australia's players have been threatened with unemployment by the Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland, in what amounts to a declaration of war on the Australian Cricketers Association.
In a letter forwarded to all male and female contracted players on Friday and seen by ESPNcricinfo, Sutherland stated that the board and state associations plan to present contract offers to CA and state players before the expiry of the current MoU on June 30. Terms of the contracts are to be in line with the current pay proposal, which was rejected by the ACA two weeks ago.
Should no MoU agreement be reached by the deadline, Sutherland wrote, the board will not be offering payment to players under any alternative model, whether it be a rollover of the current MoU or the use of tournament-by-tournament contracts.
Delivered to the ACA chief executive Alistair Nicholson on the same day its president Greg Dyer requested independent mediation to end the present stand-off, Sutherland's message constitutes a major escalation of the conflict between the board and the players, heightening the likelihood of industrial action. Australia are scheduled to tour Bangladesh and India, prior to next summer's Ashes series, after the MoU expires.
"In the absence of the ACA negotiating a new MoU, players with contracts expiring in 2016-17 will not have contracts for 2017-18," Sutherland wrote. "Players with existing multi-year State or BBL contracts that expire after 2017 will be required to play in 2017-18 and will be paid the retainer specified in their contract, regardless of whether a new MOU is in place; and in the absence of a new MoU, the Australian Women's World Cup Squad will be paid in advance of the June/July World Cup and will be employed until the end of the event.
"To be very clear, in the absence of a new MoU, CA is not contemplating alternative contracting arrangements to pay players beyond 30 June if their contracts have expired."
Also attached to the letter is a list of CA rebuttals of the ACA's alternative pay proposal, which featured a "win/win" split of the game's revenue with 22.5% to go to the players, 22.5% to go to the game's lower levels, and the remaining 55% left to CA to run the game. Sutherland wrote the ACA response "seeks to inappropriately expand its role as a players' representative body into that of a de-facto administrator".
In maintaining CA's view that the current MoU model is outdated and limiting the board's ability to adequately fund the development of the game around Australia, Sutherland also claimed that some players have expressed unease about the ACA's unwillingness to look more closely at the new pay offer. On Thursday, fast bowler Mitchell Starc stated that none of the nation's top players would contemplate a contract offer until an MoU deal is reached.
"In its defence of the status quo, the ACA's narrative about the history and supposed sanctity of the existing pay model has unfairly placed current players in a difficult position," Sutherland wrote. "I understand that some have been made to feel that accepting the relatively minor but necessary changes to the existing pay model, while being paid more, would somehow be 'letting the side down'.
"This is nonsense. Nothing decided by today's players binds future generations, just as nothing decided by past players should govern current players' decisions concerning their own careers and welfare. Future players will have their own opportunities to negotiate an MoU that suits them and the circumstances of the game at the time."
Relations between the board and the ACA have been deteriorating for some years, dating back to the 2014 departure of the former chief executive Paul Marsh to take up the equivalent role with the AFL players association. The AFL is set to announce its own pay deal, placing pressure on cricket to reach a similar point of agreement.
"For at least five months, Cricket Australia has been unambiguously clear that the twenty-year old pay model needs to be adapted in the next MoU to reflect the changing landscape of the game," Sutherland wrote. "In particular, CA has identified the need to significantly boost funding for grassroots cricket.
"CA firmly believes that the proposal is a fair deal for all players. It is therefore surprising and regrettable that the ACA is yet to engage in negotiations on any element of it. Instead, the ACA spent weeks developing a response which merely seeks to defend and entrench the status quo.
"It is clear to me that the only way forward is for the ACA to engage in focused and constructive negotiations based on the proposal put forward by CA in March. With 30 June now only weeks away, the ACA is fast running out of time to engage with CA's proposal and optimise the outcomes for players."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig