Australian cricket on the verge of biggest split

Melbourne (IANS) : Australian cricket is on the verge of the game’s biggest split since Kerry Packer launched World Series Cricket 30 years ago Sunday.

A report in Australian newspaper The Sunday Age said that Cricket Australia (CA), the governing body of the sport, has written to 11 of the nation’s top players, including captain Ricky Ponting, Brett Lee and Adam Gilchrist, berating them for signing a memorandum of understanding to play in the highly lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 tournament in April and May.

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The tone of the letter, written by CA chief executive James Sutherland and obtained by the daily, has been interpreted as a “declaration of war”, a source close to the players revealed.

According to the newspaper, Sutherland was outraged at not being consulted by the players before they signed with the IPL – where they could earn up to $1 million for a few weeks’ work – and has warned them they are in direct conflict with the terms and conditions of their CA contracts.

Repercussions for players could include being blackballed from future Australian teams, or being overlooked for future CA contracts.

It is possible that the Indian tournament could clash with CA’s obligations in Pakistan after its March tour.

But one player agent says it is unwise for Sutherland to draw a line in the sand, warning that the row “could divide the game” – and that CA is unlikely to come out on top.

“Cricket Australia doesn’t want to put the players in a position where they might have to decide between playing for them or in India,” the agent was quoted as saying by the daily

“If a player is money-oriented, the IPL will win them over. They seem prepared to offer long-term deals and can pay more money. This could be a battle (CA) won’t win.”

Other players at the centre of the showdown include Test and one-day heroes Mike Hussey, Michael Clarke, Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds.

Australians signed to long-term IPL contracts would get at least $150,000 a year to play 14 Twenty20 games over a 40-day period in India.

But some of Australia’s top players could see their IPL incomes balloon to more than $1 million with extra payments for promotions and marketing engagements.

This is on top of their CA contracts, which are worth a minimum of $140,000. But the real money is made in endorsement revenue: Ponting’s yearly take is believed to be more like $4 million, the newspaper said.

Ponting told ABC radio last month that money was the main reason Australia’s cricketers signed with the IPL. “It’s a very lucrative thing… and a very attractive thing for four to six weeks out of your year,” he said.

The Sunday Age revealed last month that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had paid $2 million to sign the Australian players for the IPL.