INDIAN batsman Rahul Dravid delivered a beautiful speech at the Australian War Memorial in 2011 on the battlefield links between India and Australia, which include Gallipoli. "Before we were competitors," he said, "we were comrades."

He warned journalists against lazy use of the language of war to describe cricket. It is, after all, only a game. But with deference to my friend Rahul, today I flout his admonition.

For it is hard not to see similarities between the current Australian cricket pay dispute and a civil war. David Warner tweeted his anguish at the rift in his sporting family last week. Another former Australian player, deeply involved in the negotiations, told me: "The oddity here is I genuinely like and respect so many on the other side of the fence. Some good people that I find myself arguing with all day."

An all-time great of the game, who fought for players in the World Series era and has since served in administration, told me: "I am bloody torn by this."

Shane Watson arrives at the Hilton Hotel in Sydney for a meeting over the pay dispute. (Pic: News Corp)
Shane Watson arrives at the Hilton Hotel in Sydney for a meeting over the pay dispute. (Pic: News Corp)

I know how they all feel. I love cricket. It has loved me back. I have friends on both sides of this current fight. The entire team led by James Sutherland and David Peever made me welcome in our national game after I underwent gender transition. I often tell people that changed my life. It may have saved my life.

Among players on the front line of the union picket are Simon Katich and Ed Cowan; men whose talent and character I can only admire. They are great blokes.

(As an aside, what is it with all these left-handers and industrial militancy? Throw in Usman Khawaja and Mitchell Starc and it all starts looking very Marxist.)

And then you have the villain from central casting David Peever, who had the temerity to run successful mining giant Rio Tinto. In culture war demonology that is his cardinal sin. I know and respect him. Both his business and cricket backgrounds are more nuanced than his detractors will concede. He cares deeply about cricket.

We have reached the point where suspicion and ill will in this dispute is poisoning vital relationships. It may take years for Australian cricket to recover. And sadly it is hard to see an early or easy resolution.

I have spoken to senior figures at Cricket Australia. Unless I am being misled or badly misreading their resolve they are determined to hold their line.

To that extent this is a fight over who runs cricket and it is only superficially about money. I still think it is more likely that the administrators rather than the players will win the fight. The pressure shifts more on to the players as the dispute goes on.

Thus far some players have resisted attractive offers to break ranks. The elite men have neither sold out their lower ranked State colleagues nor women players, despite claims to the contrary.

It is easy in all of this to forget that despite being national figures and champions these are very young men and women. Not being paid and not playing for their country will play more on their minds as time elapses and they get further away from their last payday.

Cricket Australia chairman David Peever is a useful villain from central casting, but he cares deeply about cricket. (Pic: Lachie Millard)
Cricket Australia chairman David Peever is a useful villain from central casting, but he cares deeply about cricket. (Pic: Lachie Millard)

That is the trump card in the administration's hand, though residual revenue flows into the players' pockets on 15 October. Yet that is also a double-edged sword. The public may find it hard to fathom why a seven-figure pay packet with a guaranteed increase every year for five years is not enough incentive to play for your country.

In a one critical way this dispute differs from the last big cricket civil war in 1977 when Kerry Packer founded WSC.

The entire professional cohort of Australian cricket is out on the grass with their Test comrades.

When India and England toured here in 1977/78 and 1978/79 they faced third tier Australian teams.

But every player selected for Australia was a current first class cricketer. If the players stand strong Cricket Australia may have to reach into the ranks of complete unknowns.

Only two things are clear. It will be long and it will be acrimonious, and it may take years for cricket to recover.

Ian Chappell fought hard for the rights of players in the 1970s and put his Test career on the line rather than surrender to administrators.

He thinks neither side is blameless in the current stoush, and he also believes broadcasters and sponsors will soon start to pressure both sides to sort this out. At the time of writing, however, Cricket Australia officials were adamant all major sponsors were firmly behind them.

As a cadet at Duntroon I studied the US Civil War. It was fought between men who had trained together at West Point, fought against Mexico in 1848 and even married one another's sisters. How on earth did it happen? 

In his Second Inaugural Abraham Lincoln said: "One side would wage war rather than accept the Union. The other side would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came."

Our beloved national game is on the brink of a civil war. No one will win.

News Corp Australia


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