Cricket Australia reaches flashpoint over pay dispute, South Africa tour in doubt

Australia A captain Usman Khawaja.

Australia A captain Usman Khawaja.

The first on-field chip to fall in cricket's pay dispute could arise in seven weeks if the Australia A squad opts to boycott a tour of South Africa.

The 14-man Australia A squads for a series of first-class and one-day matches, to be coached by Jason Gillespie and captained by Usman Khawaja, were named on Friday.

It will be the first series under what would be a new memorandum of understanding, should this be brokered by June 30. A new pay deal seems highly unlikely by this date, as negotiations have barely started and the stand-off between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers Association shows no sign of abating.

It's understood on initial projections there was a meeting scheduled for next week but such are the hostilities over the players' decision to dig in and retain the existing payment structure, and CA's refusal to head to mediation, that this may not go ahead.

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If there is no movement, let alone agreement, by June 30, the ACA executive and players will have to make a call by July 8 – when the Australia A squad is due to depart – whether to strike, regardless of whether some players have multi-year contracts with their states.

CA high-performance boss Pat Howard said on Friday the squad had been picked regardless of the MOU situation.

"Selectors have chosen this squad irrespective and independent of the status of the MOU. We are confident that there will be a resolution in place by June 30 and look forward to continuing to support these players to perform at their very best on the global stage," Howard said.

The ACA on Friday took a "one-step-at-a-time" approach, pointing out the trip was still almost two months away and a deal could yet be reached with CA. However, if the series was abandoned for pay reasons, players could seek financial help through the ACA's support fund.

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Steve Smith's Australian side will compete in the Champions Trophy in England next month, with their first series under what should be a new MOU not until the slated Test tour of Bangladesh in August. Player security also remains an issue for that two-Test series.

A strike by the Australia A players would be a blow for their claims for the home summer should, as expected, the Ashes series goes ahead, and then for the following four-Test tour of South Africa.

Victorian Glenn Maxwell, having captained Kings XI Punjab in the Indian Premier League, gets to further showcase his emerging leadership skills by being Khawaja's deputy. He could yet be in line for a leadership role with Victoria and the Melbourne Stars next summer.

National selector Trevor Hohns said Khawaja, desperate to regain his spot in the Test side, and Maxwell, keen to retain his, would work well together.

"Khawaja is a proven leader and has captained Australia A before. He will gel nicely with Glenn, who recently had some captaincy experience in the IPL and we believe will respond well to this extra responsibility," Hohns said.

Khawaja, 30, toured India in March but did not play a Test. 

Paceman Jackson Bird and batting allrounder Hilton Cartwright also boast Test experience and have been named in the four-day squad. 

Queensland leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson was picked in the four-day and one-day squads, reinforcing the selectors' faith in him and their desire for him to take the next step next summer.

South Australian gloveman Alex Carey, having enjoyed a Sheffield Shield record last summer of 59 dismissals, appears to have emerged as Australia's wicketkeeper in waiting, should Matthew Wade be hurt or struggle.

"This is a great chance for these players to experience foreign conditions against a quality international sides and really test their skills," Hohns said.

"With an upcoming Test Series in South Africa early next year, it is also an opportunity to impress with their performances and put their names forward for consideration."

Four-day squad: Usman Khawaja (c), Glenn Maxwell (vc), Ashton Agar, Cameron Bancroft, Jason Behrendorff, Jackson Bird, Alex Carey, Hilton Cartwright, Travis Head, Kurtis Patterson, Chadd Sayers, Mitchell Swepson, Chris Tremain, Jack Wildermuth.

One-day squad: Travis Head (c), Ashton Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Hilton Cartwright, Sam Heazlett, Moises Henriques, Daniel Hughes, Kane Richardson, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Swepson, Chris Tremain, Jack Wildermuth.

Australia A tour of South Africa   

Four-day matches: 

July 12-15: Australia A v South Africa A, Tukkies 

July 19-22: Australia A v South Africa A, Senwes Park  

One-day tri-series:

July 26: Australia A v India A, Tukkies 

July 30: Australia A v South Africa A, Groenkloof 

August 1: Australia A v India A, Tukkies 

August 5: Australia A v South Africa A, Tukkies 

August 8: Tri Series Final, Tukkies 

 - Brisbane Times

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