Grassroots fund closes final chapter on pay war

1:41 AM ETDaniel BrettigAssistant editor, ESPNcricinfo CloseAssistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel’s chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth – a rare Australian victory that summer.Follow on TwitterFacebookTwitterFacebook MessengerPinterestEmailprint

At the MCG announcement of more than AUD30 million in grassroots funding from the players’ slice of the Australian cricket revenue pie, the chief executives of Cricket Australia, Kevin Roberts, and the Australian Cricketers Association, Alistair Nicholson, appeared less as warm friends than cordial partners.

Given their respective roles at the height of the 2016-17 pay dispute, this was understandable: Nicholson and the ACA ultimately refused to deal with Roberts as lead negotiator, preferring to wait until his pragmatic predecessor James Sutherland entered the fray. Roberts and Nicholson still have some way to go to be as close as Sutherland and Nicholson’s predecessor Paul Marsh once were.

For Belinda Clark, the executive in charge of CA’s game development and community tiers before she was called in as the interim replacement for Pat Howard in team performance, the MCG announcement led by Josh Hazlewood and Holly Ferling was an apt demonstration of two organisations learning how to effectively co-exist after some years in open conflict with one another.

“Strictly speaking it wasn’t meant to be released until the end of the MoU process [in 2022] so what we’ve been working on for quite a number of months is what is our mechanism to allow us to invest now, rather than wait,” Clark told ESPNcricinfo. “So if you think about how much effort and the number of conversations that need to happen in order to set that up, it is quite a big achievement from both CA and the ACA to get ourselves on the same page in order to drag money forward and let it start going to the community well before the end of the MoU.

“If we’d played it as it should have been played out we’d have been waiting another four years to invest, and we’ve got on the same page and we’re investing it early, which is a great result for the community, it’s great that the players have made that decision and great that CA’s been able to facilitate that.”

During the pay war, the blue sky money afforded to the players at the end of an MoU period – the “adjustment ledger” above the projected revenue percentage paid out as a lump sum to all players contracted during the period of the agreement – was a key battleground.

CA, led by Roberts, were adamant that this money should not just go straight into the pockets of players already well paid when the game had other urgent needs. On the other side, Nicholson and the ACA argued fervently that the players were happy to pitch in more money to help the game’s other levels provided they had some oversight as to how.

The compromise, landed upon well before the Newlands scandal that ultimately cost another key MoU protagonist, CA chairman David Peever, his job, was to have the players commit at least AUD30 million from the end of the new MoU to grassroots.

In terms of urgency, CA had already identified major infrastructure and facility shortfalls through an audit of cricket venues, but through the players’ share will now be able to provide significant assistance to clubs in terms of equipment and playing kit – costs more traditionally taken on by parents and clubs themselves and thus presenting an entry barrier for many families and prospective junior players.

“What this money’s allowed us to do is really address how sometimes those small clubs [say] I just need another kit, I’ve got an extra team and I need another kit of gear, or I need some more stumps or those operational things that traditionally sports don’t fund, clubs are responsible for those costs,” Clark said. “This burst allows people to get their head above water and make sure they’ve got those things ready for people to be playing.”

For Hazlewood, a regional product from Bendemeer in country New South Wales, childhood memories of tatty old shared bats, pads, gloves and protectors until well into his teen years made this a particularly relevant investment for those who will follow him. “We had a team kit for as long as I can remember growing up and everyone just grabbed a bat and pads and no-one really had their own gear until maybe 15 or 16 even,” he said. “If we can add to that team kit, get a few more bats in there and help guys out, that’ll be great.”

More broadly, the value of the players not only investing but being seen to do so funneled neatly into the goals set for CA and the ACA by the cultural reviews that flowed out of Newlands. Hazlewood agreed that a greater sense of connection to the clubs and communities a long way from the highly funded and often hermetically sealed elite level served to remind him and others of how fortunate they were.

“When you’re playing for Australia and you’re in and out every day, you’re on tour all the time, it does become a job and it feels like that sometimes,” he said. “It takes sometimes to go back to the country and to see where you started and seeing the kids playing now and even men at 45, 50 years of age playing every weekend, purely for the love it of it, it reignites that spark why you started and it’s good to see.”

The other thing of note about Nicholson and Roberts at the MCG on Thursday was the fact that both men stayed at a safe distance from the television cameras and recorders. The players, then, took centre stage – an arrangement the two chief executives looked more than happy about.