Cricket: Healy the record striker

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While Ian Healy was showing the conventional side of player power on the pitch in the second Test against New Zealand in Perth, negotiations were going on behind the scenes to avert the threat of a possible strike by the Australian team.

There was encouraging news for the Australian Cricket Board after some of Australia's top cricketers on Friday night decided not to sign letters that give the ACB notice of intended strikes during four one-day matches against South Africa from 4 to 14 December.

Their surprise move came just hours after the New South Wales and West Australian Sheffield Shield state teams signed the letters in Sydney.

"We're sick and tired of people saying it's up to us to budge all the time when they don't want to budge," said the Australian Cricketers' Association president and former test bowler Tim May. "There's probably a bit of waiting on both sides at the moment."

The ACB chairman Denis Rogers refused to comment and his chief executive, Mal Speed, said little in response. "It's an encouraging move," Speed said during the telecast of the second Test. The Australian team met with May and ACA consultant James Erskine for two hours on Friday night. May denied that the players had backed down by not signing the strike letters.

"The resolve is exactly the same as it was 48 hours ago," May said. "We're not backing down or cooling off. We have always said we will explore every avenue to avoid industrial action."

The association is seeking better pay and conditions for its 120 members under the federal Workplace Relations Act. The ACB wants to deal with the players individually.

The only striking Healy was up to yesterday was off the front foot as he became the highest-scoring Australian wicketkeeper in Tests to power his side to a commanding first-innings lead. New Zealand, needing 244 to avoid an innings defeat, slumped to 69 for 3 at the close on the third day at the WACA ground.

Healy hammered 85 and Paul Reiffel struck 54 which, after Steve Waugh's dismissal for 96, pushed Australia's first innings to 461 all out. Healy, who had made three of the overnight 235 for four, went on to increase his aggregate to 3,648 runs in 96 tests, overtaking Rod Marsh's mark of 3,633.

The redoubtable Healy now has the second highest aggregate by a wicketkeeper in Test history behind England's Alan Knott, who compiled 4,389 runs in his 95 tests.

New Zealand's cause was not helped when opener Bryan Young was run out for 23 after a breakdown in communications with Adam Parore, who was 42 not out at the close. Craig McMillan, who suffered a broken thumb in his side's first innings, is expected to bat again today.

Third day; New Zealand won the toss

New Zealand - First innings 217 (C D Mc Millan 54, C L Cairns 52, S K Warne 4-83).

Australia - First Innings

(Overnight 235 for 4)

S R Waugh b O'Connor 96

I A Healy c Fleming b Cairns 85

R T Ponting c Fleming b Cairns 16

P R Reiffel c Fleming b Cairns 54

S K Warne c O'Connor b Vettori 36

M S Kasprowicz run out 9

S H Cook not out 3

Extras (6b, 5lb, 7nb) 18

Total (131.4 overs; 532mins) 461

Fall: 5-262, 6-287, 7-403, 8-449, 9-450.

Bowling: Doull 21-3-78-1 (4nb), O'Connor 31.5-7-109-3, Cairns 28-9-95- 4 (1nb), Vettori 29-7-84-1, Allott 22-3-84-0 (2nb).

New Zealand - Second Innings

B A Pocock c Blewett b Kasprowicz 1

B A Young run out 23

A C Parore not out 42

D L Vettori c Taylor b Warne 1

*S P Fleming not out 0

Extras (2nb) 2

Total (for 3) 69

Fall: 1-2, 2-53, 3-55.

Bowling: Kasprowicz 9-3-23-1, Reiffel 7-4-10-0 (2nb), Warne 9-2-17-1, Cook 5-2-19-0.