By Adam Collins
In politics, it is known as a ‘statement war’. They’re typically started with the opposition by writing a media release, adding a bit of mayonnaise to the final product. A line or two that the government won’t be able to ignore; that will drive them wild. Ideally, something that isn’t able to be proven or disproven. A bit of niggle from the slip cordon, if you like.
The minister it is directed at sees the release and blows up. “How dare they say that? This is (expletive) outrageous! We must respond!”
Invariably, they do. I’ve been the guy writing that reply more often than I care to admit, and it was almost always the wrong thing to do. It is the same principle that applies to online trolls: once you engage them, you’ve already lost.
So, with this in mind, it felt only appropriate that Cricket Australia responded to confirmation from the Australian Cricketers’ Association that players won’t travel to South Africa for the ‘A’ tour this month with – you guessed it – a media statement.
No further commentary. No scrutiny. No questions from the media. Just attempt to win the air war that has defined this stoush since David Warner took it to a new level when saying the Ashes could be in jeopardy.
It included a familiar piece of spin: that money saved by not touring South Africa – around $250,000AUD – will be funnelled back into local facilities. They said the same thing about the $1m AUD CA won’t have to pay in
fortnightly salaries to players when the deadline for a Memorandum of Understanding formally passed on 30 June.
The board continue to play on the turf of the players’ union when adopting this strategy. Instead of looking the grown-ups in the room – ready to negotiate and carefully find the middle ground – they instead appear petulant. Doubly so when any commendable words they commit to paper are undermined by yet more sniping along the way.
That a formal mediation process has been repeatedly rejected speaks also to CA’s belligerence. It is true that agreeing to such a process would empower the ACA by joining them on even terms. But surely the time for flexing muscle has been and gone. Now is the moment for reaching out a hand, or even giving a cuddle. A s**t sandwich, for sure, but one that needs eating.
What about those in the middle? Not Warner, nor Steve Smith or Mitchell Starc. They’re unemployed in name only with the lucrative opportunities available to them. It’s the fringe players and rookies who have given their all to the game who now bleed money week to week.
It’s a popular school of thought amongst players that CA want to use this pressure point to create a divide, opened up by cricketers who ultimately can’t hold out in sustained industrial action. If that is the case, as estimable cricket writer Gideon Haigh assessed of this scenario, it would constitute borderline unconscionable action.
One thing is clear: it is overdue for CA to put away the keyboards and get in a room to express some overdue candour and contrition. For they are the government here, and governments always have a choice. Even when it isn’t easy, they always have a choice.