Clayton Murzello: '$500 for extra Test or we go home'

While Smith & Co fight for a larger share of Cricket Australia's profits, many of them wouldn't have heard about a similar row in 1969-70

Steve Smith and David Warner. Pic/AFP
Steve Smith and David Warner. Pic/AFP

One of Australia's finest captains, Mark Taylor finds himself on the other side of the fence, 20 years after leading a players pay dispute in 1997-98.

Today, Taylor is a director at Cricket Australia, which is urging the Australian Cricketers' Association (ACA) to get the players to sign a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) by June 30. The new deal entails enhanced payments to men and women players, but it is not exactly based on the revenue-sharing that the ACA wants.

Last week, Taylor slammed the ACA for not going about negotiations in the right manner and pointed to the fact that players told him that there could be a strike in July. What surprised Taylor was that the players said this even before the new MoU was presented to the ACA.

Taylor admitted being uncomfortable in the present scenario, considering he fought for his players in 1997. He also revealed that Cricket Australia (then called Australian Cricket Board) wanted to sack him as captain. That's so typical of administrators, especially those who haven't worn their country's colours.

Taylor was not the first captain to feel threatened. Some like Bill Lawry got the sack. The current impasse caused me to recall the 1969-70 dispute concerning the then Australian cricket team led by Lawry.

Unlike now, that fight was over $500, not millions; one Test, not an entire programme. But it was significant, because it led to bigger disputes and those caused the formation of World Series Cricket.

This is what happened: the Australian team under Lawry had just finished their three-month tour of India, where they won the Test series 3-1. From India, they travelled to South Africa for a four-Test series. Soon, there was talk about a five-Test series in case there was a deadlock.

A proposal to play an extra Test was put to the players by team manager Fred Bennett.

Ian Chappell, the vice-captain, insisted the players get paid $500 for the fifth Test. He had the backing of most senior players, including captain Lawry. Chappell admitted in Cricket in My Blood that $500 emerged without much thought, but they were fighting on principle.

Bennett told the team that the Board would not agree to $500, but Chappell stood his ground. The Board agreed to $200, which was $20 dollars more than what they paid for home Test matches. Nothing doing, said the players, and Test No. 5 of that series was not played.

Australia lost the first Test at Cape Town and went on to lose the series 0-4. Doug Walters, always one to see the funny side of things, said: "It was probably a blessing in disguise because 5-nil sounds a lot worse than 4-nil."

It was during that South Africa tour that Lawry wrote a letter to the Board, insisting that the team should be put up in first-class hotels whenever they travelled to India. Chappell was convinced that Lawry's days were numbered as captain as soon as he wrote that letter, while Richie Benaud felt that Lawry, "didn't do himself the slightest bit of good by putting in a report to the Australian cricket board."

Within a few months, even before he could lose the 1970-71 Ashes, Lawry was gone as captain and Chappell took over.

Chappell was stunned by his elevation because not long before, influential radio commentator Alan McGilvray had told him that a Board member insisted that he would never become captain of Australia because of the dispute in South Africa.

When Chappell returned home on the night of his appointment, he exclaimed to his then joyous wife Kay, "The b*****ds won't get me like they got Bill." He gave them no chance to wield their axe because he didn't lose a Test series as captain, and as soon as he won his last — against England at the Oval in 1975 — he told his team that it was his last Test as skipper.

In his five years as captain, Chappell got invited to a couple of Board meetings. At one of them, Sir Don Bradman, still calling the shots in the early 1970s, sat back while Chappell touched upon various points of concern. But when Chappell brought up finance, Bradman, according to Chappell, "sat forward, listening intently." The great batsman then told Chappell, "No son, we can't do that. The Board will not entertain such ideas." All talk on finance ended with that.

The players, according to former Test spinner Ashley Mallett, were granted $200 bonus for the 1974-75 season, but that was nothing in comparison to the massive gate takings for the famous Ashes series, in which messrs Lilllee and Thomson pummelled the Englishmen.

Back to the current controversy. The players have indicated that their participation in the forthcoming Australian summer's Ashes series is under a cloud if they don't get a share of the Board's earnings through media rights. There are plenty of T20 leagues to go to and that could lead to a play-for-franchise-not-for-country situation, which no one wants to see. It has happened before, it will happen again, if Cricket Australia refuse to give in.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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