Sydney: Australia captain Steve Smith said he was upbeat that a bitter pay war between players and management could be nearly over — but warned the team wouldn't go ahead with this month's tour of Bangladesh until a new deal is signed.
Some 230 Australian cricketers have been unemployed since the end of June when their contracts expired, in a row that has rattled the game and left their relationship with the governing body badly strained.
But after months of bad-tempered negotiations over a new pay deal — and a player boycott of an Australia ‘A’ tour to South Africa — the end appears to be in sight.
"A deal hasn't been done just yet," Smith told Fox Sports Australia late on Tuesday. "There's still a few things that need to be finalised, some key elements.
"They've been making some really good progress and hopefully they'll continue to make progress."
A resolution would give certainty not just to the Bangladesh trip, but a one-day tour to India in September and October ahead of the showpiece home Ashes series against England, beginning in November.
But Smith said a deal would have to be struck before Australia board the flight for Dhaka on August 18.
"I told Pat Howard personally this was how things were going to be," he said, referring to Cricket Australia's team performance manager.
"I'd like to (tour Bangladesh), but as we've said for a long time we need to get a deal done first."
CA chief James Sutherland warned last week that unless the drawn-out negotiations over a revenue-sharing deal produced a compromise by early this week, he would take the matter to arbitration and let the industrial umpire resolve it.
This sparked new urgency to strike a deal, with talks continuing over the weekend.
Players have been paid from gross revenue for the past two decades, but CA wants their pay to come from a set pool instead, with only surplus revenue shared.
The Australian newspaper reported Wednesday that barring last-minute stumbling blocks, the players would largely retain the previous model, which they have insisted is non-negotiable.
But even if the disagreement is resolved, former captain Michael Clarke said on Sunday he feared things would never be the same between CA and the players.
Vice-captain David Warner has been particularly outspoken in the push to keep the 20-year revenue-sharing arrangement. But Smith insisted the batsman had nothing to fear regarding potential retribution from Howard and Sutherland.
"No, I think he'll be okay," Smith said. "Obviously he's been very vocal and he's supported the Australian Cricketers' Association through this whole thing and he's been great."