Leading Australian players face pay cut

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The Independent Online
AUSTRALIA'S TOP cricketers have learnt that their pay packets in this Ashes season will be considerably lighter than before - after appointing an agent to negotiate on their behalf with the country's Cricket Board.

Mark Waugh, one of six players previously paid a basic wage of A$200,000 (pounds 74,350) a year, said he was "very surprised" when his new salary was unveiled yesterday down to as little as A$160,000 (pounds 59,470).

The top stars, anxious lest a world of spiralling salaries to sports players should pass them by, and having spent the last year canvassing for more money, were gratified when the ACB announced an increase in the overall pool of A$1.2m. But their ambitions have foundered on an unexpected outbreak of egalitarianism. Instead of those at the pinnacle of the game, fringe Test players and stars of the Sheffield Shield will benefit from significant pay rises.

The other chief beneficiary is the players' agent, James Erskine, who pockets a seven-figure sum over two years. The Board's spokesman, Malcolm Speed, said he had spent a day with the players recently and had heard no complaints. The likes of Mark Taylor and Glenn McGrath could still earn as much as half a million dollars for their efforts, he said, but that assumes they continue in their winning ways and therefore qualify for all the available bonuses.

Judging by the Test squad's impressive start to their current tour of Pakistan, that appears to be a safe bet. But, in just over a week's time, England arrive to do their best to come between the top Australians and their cheques. Whether there is a deep strategy by the ACB to drive motivation on the field to an even higher level of intensity, the events of the next few weeks may reveal.

Shane Warne, who earns A$200,000 a season in addition to endorsements and sponsorships, said he supported the deal because it was good for the game. "I suppose if you just look at the pure figures of it, the top players have taken a bit of a pay cut but over time we will get more than what we actually would have got," Warne told Australian radio. "You need some sort of foundation in cricket and Shield cricket is the foundation for it."

But the ACA president, Tim May, said the deal was unfair. "Some players have a problem with this," May said. "The payment pool has increased but the top players have suffered."