THE Australian squad for Pakistan has been picked and it is probably supreme irony that the cricket board chose to reveal the same day that pay negotiations were still at an unsatisfactory level. So bad are things that there is talk that even though the team has been picked, it may not go to Pakistan at all!
It does strike one as peculiar that only the Australians are involved in this kind of pay dispute. No other team has a players association, there is no haggling over money, at least not of the sort that is going on in Australia. Tim May, who never made much of an impression while he was a player, is now an extremely powerful person in the national cricket scene.
It must be asked: is there no pay parity among the nine Test playing teams? Why is it that the Australian team alone feels it is being short-charged? Even India and Pakistan, the two teams which put the squeeze on the Sharjah cricket administrators and obtained higher guarantee payments, the same two which are willing to play anywhere on earth provided the money is good, appear to be satisfied with the payments their boards dole out.
Last season, before the South Africans arrived in Australia, the talk of a boycott began. Even after the tour got under way, the rumblings never died out completely. There was talk of resurrecting Dean Jones, this time as captain, if the regulars did eventually boycott a game. In the end, as it turned out, there was no need for a back-up team.
This time, there is much more time for the cricketers to plan things out. May is already into meetings with board officials but judging from comments by Graham Halbish, who has just given up his board position, things are not looking too good. And if anyone should be in a position to know, he should.
The media have made efforts to gloss over things but the fact remains that the cricketers association is yet to come to a pay deal with the administrators, one that can stand the test of at least one season. And the recent victory by one other union in Australia, that of the dock workers, may well have made the cricketers realise that joint action can indeed yield dividends.
Will the Australian summer then be one of discontent? The Ashes are up for grabs again and if anything can pull the crowds, a battle with the Poms can. Sri Lanka are the third team in the annual triangular contest and the prospect of gaining revenge for the World Cup defeat would be another factor to pull in the fans. All this would be in vain if there is industrial action in the game for the first time ever. It is high time that these disputes were settled once and for all by giving the players an equitable share of the money which, incidentally, they bring in. It is also high time that the administrators realised that players are the reason people come to watch matches.