Cricket’s two most powerful bodies have reached an impasse over pay. The enmity between the two runs deep – blinking first ain’t an option. Thus, all our elite players (230+) are currently unemployed. HOWZAT for a dilemma?
There’s nothing like propelling a tennis ball wrapped in electrical tape towards a mate standing in front of a garbage bin, all the while trying to hit the damn thing over the neighbour’s fence – have you ever seen how much a ball wrapped in plastic tape swings and dances; it’s a beautiful thing to behold?
Backyard cricket: the game where not only mates, but gran and grandson become batting partners in a fiercely fought out Test Match.
And this is serious stuff, too; “Sure, it’s only make believe Test cricket… but try telling that to your big brother whose trying to knock your head-off from just 12 metres away!” It’s on.
“Howzat… Gaaawn… you’re out: that’s EL-BEE-DOUBLE U!”
No umpires or DRS here.
Things always get sorted, though, ‘cause the game must go on – “And anyway, you can’t be EL-BEE first ball!”
Laughter. Passion. Diving. Cheering. Crying. Sportsmanship. Dummy spits. Broken windows; not to mention mum’s ritual call-out, usually at ten to six on the dot: “Dinner time! Finish your game and wash your hands, boys… and that means NOW!”
This is the place where all cricketers begin their education, from the elite to the fun-loving social player.
And what a noble thing: to learn your craft in the most accessible and familiar of places: the place where dogs and cats, clothes lines and vegie gardens look on without fuss.
The place where the lemon tree stands nervously at cover-point, the Azalea bush hunches over at 3rd slip, while the gum tree stands imperiously at deep mid-off.
Well, that was way back when. Things change, don’t you know? Time to remove those pesky rose coloured glasses and enter the real world: the world which has turned cricket, and many of its sporting cousins, into a corporate behemoth – a dog eat dog world of intellectual property rights, franchises, lawyers, branding, commercial interests, and ruthless power-brokers.
The backyard has become a corporate swamp that is slowly but surely swallowing-up the game’s beauty and nobility. No wonder the unseemly stand-off between our game’s two most powerful bodies: the Cricketers’ Association (ACA) and Cricket Australia (CA).
So what happened?
Well, the goose laid the proverbial golden egg for our cricketers twenty years ago when they successfully negotiated the revenue share model – a model, mind you, which sees some of our retired International cricketers currently earning seven figure salaries; yes, blokes who no longer hit, catch, bowl, or field in either the Test or Sheffield Shield arenas are earning over twice as much as our Prime Minister.
Why wouldn’t they want to maintain the status quo; wouldn’t you?
Yet CA’s proposed new funding model, the one the cricketers have rejected out of hand, seems more than reasonable:
- Male international players average salary is expected to increase from $1.16m to $1.45m by 2021;
- Domestic players average salary up from $200,000 to $230,000;
- Women International players average salary up from $79,000 to $179,000;
- Female domestic players average salary up from $22,000 to $52,000.
(figures from The Australian, July 13, p.1)
Cleverly, though, the ACA has framed this dispute in industrial relations terms: it’s the big, bad employer taking advantage of the poor workers. In this instance, however, one has to question whether the workers might be overplaying their hand.
Indeed, as it stands, 70 per cent of the game’s total revenue is directed at the elite level, while just 12 per cent is passed-on to grassroots. CA rightly believes this is untenable and that it can be resolved only by changing the revenue sharing model the players understandably want to cling to.
Given this backdrop, it is interesting to see how the very well remunerated have managed to attract underdog cum victims-of-corporate-bullying status; little wonder they are way out in front of CA in the public relations stakes. This is not to say, of course, that the players are simply being mercenary and opportunistic. There is genuine goodwill among them. Rather, the point is, entrenched privilege changes a man; he loses perspective, as decent as he may be. And who wants to trade-in a five star lifestyle anyway?
But CA too has its problems and is, by no means, without fault. Its bureaucracy has become bloated, while at the executive level, the goose has also been especially kind laying larger and larger eggs. The CEO of 16 years, James Sutherland, for instance, is on perhaps as much as two million per annum – at least he’s not retired.
Further, they have run a very clumsy and, at times, grating PR campaign; one from which the CEO and the chair, David Peever, have been strangely absent.
And while CA seems to have a good, if poorly enunciated grassroots story to tell, and the players remain our beloved backyard champions; it’s hard to have much sympathy for either set of protagonists. One just hopes the dispute doesn’t end in a nasty divorce in which the adults become so consumed with winning – and doing each other over – that they forget the kids: the punters, juniors, and volunteers.
Frankly, “The love of money is the root of all evil – and of most disputes.” It’s time, then, for both parties to remember their first love: the game. That beautiful childhood sweetheart they met way back when in the backyard.
And lest we forget that amid the acrimony there remain a lot of thoroughly good people – players and administrators alike. It’s just that the insatiable corporate culture in which they are immersed has little appetite for cricket’s humble backyard and grassroots soul.
Might I suggest, then, that Mr Sutherland takes the new ball from the old gum tree end; Mr Nicholson (ACA, CEO) takes guard in front of the bin near the Azaleas; while Mr Peever fields at deep cover-point to protect the kitchen window.
Now that’s a game worth fighting for.
Peter Day is a former backyard cricketer and Catholic priest from the archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn