Australia news April 6, 2017

Australian cricket's lifters-and-leaners moment

CA's implicit argument that domestic cricketers are non-earning assets, and thus less deserving of good pay, is disingenuous and unlikely to pass muster

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Brettig: Players want a significant say in financial matters

In May 2014, Australia's then treasurer, Joe Hockey, handed down his first federal budget in which he characterised a point of difference between those who contributed to the nation's economy and those who did not. "We must always remember that when one person receives an entitlement from the government," he said, "it comes out of the pocket of another Australian." His speech ended with the phrase "we are nation of lifters, not leaners".

A little less than three years later, a similar sentiment pervades Cricket Australia's formal pay offer to the Australian Cricketers' Association. The recurring theme is that international cricketers fund the game, and are doing their domestic colleagues a mighty favour by bankrolling state and Big Bash League contracts.

The document is littered with references to how international players deserve credit for sharing the money they earn with domestic players. On page six: "CA commends international men for continuing to support domestic cricket." Page eight: "International men should also be commended for continuing to support domestic players." Page 21: "International men deserve significant credit for supporting domestic players given that domestic cricket does not generate a financial surplus."

In summary, Australia's international players have been deemed the game's "lifters", and domestic players the "leaners". Following that logic, CA have indicated that rises in domestic player wages will be minimal over the next five years, with only international players eligible to share in any surpluses above projections.

The logic applied to the pay offer would appear to suggest that Australian cricket exists in distinctly separate realms: international players having nothing to do with their domestic counterparts. This is a hard claim to justify

Even this measure, allowing international men and women to share in the money raised from the staging of the matches in which they play, is merely vestigial next to what was available in the past. It is the only sliver of "blue sky" left for any players under the current deal, in sharp contrast to the fixed revenue percentage inked into all previous pay deals between CA and the ACA.

Yet, the logic applied to the pay offer would appear to suggest that Australian cricket exists in distinctly separate realms: international players having nothing to do with their domestic counterparts and vice-versa. This is a hard claim to justify in light of the fact that the Sheffield Shield has long been described as the breeding ground for Australia's Test team, while the recent growth of the BBL has put domestic players at the forefront of an area that stands to reap rich financial returns for CA over the coming decades.

It has been odd to hear CA's chief executive James Sutherland consistently talking up the BBL's burgeoning status as a source of new fans but also new revenue for the game over the past six years, then contorting his logic in the context of the pay offer by saying: "It's true that on the surface, the BBL may be starting to break even in certain quarters, but we've still got a very significant deficit from previous years". Estimates for next year's looming renewal of the BBL television rights deal have its value tripling from A$100 million (US$76m approx) to A$300 million (US$227m approx).

Equally, all the game's broadcast and commercial partners are happy to invest in Australian cricket out of the belief that domestic competitions are strong enough to produce international players whenever necessary. The success of the likes of Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb, two players moulded as much by the Shield as anything else, over the past season confirmed that this low-profile competition is vital to maintaining the standard of talent coming into the teams that generate the revenue CA builds its operations around.

This is all without mentioning that CA has itself been pushing for greater cooperation across the nation over the past eight years, starting with the Australian Cricket Conference in 2010. That event led to reforms such as the start of the BBL, the introduction of an independent CA board of directors, and even the adoption of a national philosophy called "One Team", meaning that CA and the state associations should all be pushing in one direction, leaving old differences behind. The pay offer's repeated assertions that domestic players do not contribute to the financial whole make for quite the contradiction to all this - One Team, or divide and conquer?

Cast in the role of Hockey for CA is Kevin Roberts, the board's head of strategy and people, appointed after serving first as one of its first independent directors, and a former Sheffield Shield cricketer himself. Roberts is fair-minded and sharp, and has at least avoided Hockey's mistake of being caught smoking a cigar on the day the 2014 budget was announced. But like the former treasurer, he has been caught between competing demands and ideologies - those that have been in place for two decades, and those of the new board and its chairman, the former Rio Tinto managing director David Peever.

Things get curiouser still when examining the rich - and deserved - increases in pay allocated to female cricketers under the offer. In explaining why CA has moved to bring greater financial rewards to the women's game in advance of the financial returns it currently gains, the board states that research suggests a past deficit is in need of correcting: "Independent experts have highlighted that the historical disproportionate investment in international men's cricket relative to international women's cricket has contributed to the value differential between the two."

That is an undeniably fair justification for bringing full professionalism to women's cricket down under. But it is also an argument that may be applied to domestic cricket across the board, given how the BBL has flourished with the help of greater investment to promote the competition and its players. CA's appeals to find more money for grass roots falls into similar territory - funding areas that don't bring direct financial returns but help build the game as a whole.

So it must be concluded that the reality of "lifters and leaners" in Australian cricket becomes more complex and nuanced the more closely one looks, not unlike that of the national economy. Which brings us to one more parallel between Hockey's budget and the CA pay offer: the first was blocked from passing through the Parliament, the second stands about as much chance of being agreed to by the players.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ashok on April 8, 2017, 3:12 GMT

    Yes why play Shield cricket if that is what the market truly dictates. I think cricket will pretty much descend into T20 only.

  • Jose on April 7, 2017, 13:59 GMT

    Are we neglecting the waters, from where we catch the fish?


    IND: Hardly anyone watches Ranji matches. And they live on doles from BCCI, with hardly any source of its own income.

    ENG: Read, that many counties are debt ridden, while ECB seems to be well off.

    AUS: Is Australia taking the same rocky road, for ts domestic cricket? This resource allocation model makes me wonder!

    Even before this news, I read a few articles in OZ media. Here is just a sample.

    "Once Handscomb, Renshaw and Nic Maddinson became the chosen ones, it was time for Shield to return to the back of the cupboard like an old jar of pickled onions - never to be seen again until a recipe specifically called for just that.

    Indeed, these days Shield cricket only seems to have cut-through on the incredibly rare occasions when there is a nation-wide search for players or someone like Pat Cummins is returning from injury"


    Is there a case of Children doing well, when mothers get neglected? Universall

  • James on April 7, 2017, 12:41 GMT

    XL2020, yeah, I'm sure 15 years in state cricket would have made Warner more successful on Asian wickets with those strangely dark, dry patches outside the left-handlers' off stumps - before the game begins. Just ask Adam Voges, whose stellar performance in SL is testament to the veracity of your statement. Not. Didn't Warner average 50 in the last Ashes in England? More than that in SA? Seems like his problem is very specific, and no amount of playing at the SCG will solve it. Few of India's batsman's prospered on those wickets in the recent tour of India, and some did much worse than Warner, including one who goes by the name of the King. And no, I am not talking about Elvis.

  • James on April 7, 2017, 12:31 GMT

    Domestic players are paying the price - quite literally - for the politically correct move of hugely increasing female players' salaries. There have been articles written by women in local rags saying it is outrageous men earn more than women for the same work. But the reality is that the women's leagues are far less competitive, have a national pool of far fewer players, and operate at a loss. Why should someone in the cut-throat male competition have his salary reduced to be equal with a female player in a league that is about as competitive - and similar standard - as in a men's third grade in a country town?

  • ReganR7710392 on April 7, 2017, 12:27 GMT

    The page 21 quote "domestic cricket does not generate a financial surplus" is a devastating indictment of CA's incompetence. The Sheffield Shield is one of the longest-running first class cricket competitions in the world, with a rich history, old rivalries and a worldwide reputation for cricketing excellence. There is absolutely no excuse for it to run at a loss, and the reason it does is that CA have done everything in their power to marginalise the competition and funnel crowds to the Big Bash instead. We are constantly bombarded with millions of dollars worth of advertising for the Big Bash. When was the last time you saw any kind of promotion for a Shield game?

  • Sandeep on April 7, 2017, 12:13 GMT

    This is a classic move by cricket board to cast the issue into player vs player (international vs domestic), instead of player vs board. Reality is that CA is among the few boards that are making good amount of revenue overall, but don't want to let player "costs" get out of hand. At a minimum, they want to retard the inflation rate in player compensation. Its extremely easy for them to churn out propaganda like this about "loss making" domestic cricket. And I can't believe that respected media organizations are actually buying the argument that BBL is not a profitable league. Another example of an organization managing facts in order to keep "costs" down. I will give credit to CA for this - they have managed to keep player salaries in BBL - arguably the world's 2nd most watched league - well below the IPL levels. Excellent job of shadow accounting. Panama has nothing on the likes of Sutherland and co.

  • rainth9775804 on April 7, 2017, 8:03 GMT

    How is this even a debate?. Lets consider our education system for example. Just because its the higher education university systems which produce people who actually earn or perform work, would it in any way mean the basic primary school systems get to be neglected. India is a perfect example of how such an outlook led to decades of social neglect. Similarly, this is going to backfire spectacularly if it goes into practice. This is going to hurt test cricket more than anything else. Youngsters are going to be lured towards preparing themselves for the shorter formats when they should be honing their basics. Why toil in the domestic scene when I have a better chance of securing a BBL contract if I focus on my hitting skills?. For all the criticism of BCCI, it should be noted that they haven't allowed their cricket system to be infiltrated by market forces the manner in which English and Australian cricket boards have done.

  • Leon on April 7, 2017, 7:09 GMT

    The point by Jono_M is spot on and it puts the whole situation into perspective. "you cannot even become a 'lifter' before you have been a 'leaner', unless your name is David Warner" lets face it Warner's away record is indicative of his incompleteness as a batsman and he probably could have used a couple of shield seasons in his younger developmental stage of his career. So is he an example of the future test cricketer CA are seeking?

  • Terry on April 7, 2017, 6:21 GMT

    The logic as said is flawed if not idiotic. Its a flow from junior cricket to grade to state and then international. All players follow that path and its MORE important to attract the talent through the start and retain and develop it along the way. The biggest threat to Australian cricket is the loss of talented 17yo's to AFL rookie contracts if they cant see a way of making a living before they hopefully eventually become the next Smith, Warner or Starc. The players at the top are well rewarded with their IPL contracts on top of their CA and commercial earnings and creating the environment where the next generation comes through is more important than Steve Smith getting another $100,000.

  •   Cricinfouser on April 7, 2017, 6:00 GMT

    Rio Tinto! That explains a lot. Well, if the Shield players are considered a drain on CA coffers and add no value to cricket I suggest an experiment to see if this is true. Suspend all Shield cricket for, say, a decade and see how cricket is travelling?

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