In bridging the gap between the two warring factions of Australian cricket, national coach Darren Lehmann may find himself as an accidental hero in the bitter pay dispute that has threatened to plunge the game into turmoil.
Lehmann and his leading male players will assemble in England for the ICC Champions Trophy in coming days. There is a vital tournament to play but Lehmann knows the issues in the boardroom will permeate much of the the atmosphere.
He has no doubt his players will sharpen their focus the moment they set foot on the field but says he will clear the air beforehand, addressing the players and acknowledging the presence of the thundering elephant in the room.
“We’ll talk about it when we all meet,” Lehmann said in Brisbane before his departure. “You have to do that, you’ve got to keep it open in communication so we know the direction everyone’s going.
“It is going to be a bit of a distraction, there’s no doubt about that. But, at the end of the day, we concentrate on the cricket, we’re there to do a job and play as well as we possibly can. From my point of view, they’ve just got to get talking, that’s what it gets down to.
“They’ll get it sorted. They’re both adults, both boards will deal with it the best they possibly can and get the outcome right for the players and the game.”
It’s a key gathering for many of the leading players in the negotiations, or lack thereof given the current stand-off between Cricket Australia and the players union, the Australian Cricketers Association.
It will be the first time the playing elites will be together as a squad since the fire about the Memorandum of Understanding began to blaze out of control. It will also be their last before the current deal expires on June 30, after which CA has suggested there may be no more wages forthcoming unless an arrangement can be met.
CA wants to shake up the funding flow and move away from a percentage-of-revenue model that has served the game for 20 years. Players have voiced strong concerns, fearing for the lower tiers and, in the case of opener David Warner, raising the extreme possibility of a strike.
That’s a drastic move Lehmann is quick to dismiss as a genuine possibility, saying he has faith that tempers can be soothed in time before it degenerates into open revolt.
“No, I wouldn’t think so [that there will be a strike],” Lehmann said. “And I’d hope not as a fan. I’m sure that won’t happen.”
As a former president of the ACA (from 2006 to 2009), Lehmann sits in a unique position to lend an ear to his disaffected players. He says there has already been a flurry of emails and texts exchanged, while he has had more than a few discussions with Steve Smith, who has been playing in India.
He admits the relationship between the parties is as low as it was in the 1997-98 dispute (the catalyst for the current revenue sharing model) but has the utmost faith both will return to the table and find a middle ground, even if it is at five minutes to midnight on June 29.
“I was there as a player and a delegate and then president,” he said. “You have those issues, every sport has them, so it’s just about communication and getting the right outcome for both parties. That’s the key.
“Both sides I’m sure will get there. It traditionally goes quite late, so there’s no panic, it’s just about those two parties getting together.”
He says he doesn’t believe the players have alienated the cricketing public, despite images of Warner’s Lamborghini and the already substantial pay packets of the nation’s best players.
“I’m not going to go too much into that to be perfectly honest. What I want to do is see both parties come to the table and get a deal done for the betterment of the game, from the grassroots right through to elite cricketers. That’s important for me.
“The players are sticking together, we support players and the players support CA. Everyone supports each other. It’s just a case of getting the deal done.”