London - MCC world cricket committee chairman Mike Brearley has said the threat of an Ashes boycott by Australia players is a "serious" concern amid fears of a "looming crisis" for Test cricket as a whole.
A bitter pay dispute between Australia's board and players saw the two sides unable to reach an agreement before last week's deadline after months of protracted talks.
The row, which threatens fixtures including this year's prestige home Ashes series, intensified at the weekend when the Australian Cricketers' Association said players would boycott an Australia A tour of South Africa this month unless a new deal was agreed by Friday.
Brearley, whose influential committee has Australia great Rodney Marsh, until recently the national selector, among its members, said Tuesday after a meeting at Lord's: "We heard from Rodney Marsh that it seemed both sides were very intransigent and not getting close together, although there's some rumour that there might be, in which case somebody we'll have to give way."
Brearley, England's captain when they won the Ashes 5-1 in Australia in 1978/79 against a depleted home side weakened by mass 'defections' to Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket, added: "We think it's a pretty serious thing.
"It could stop tours they are undertaking and series they are playing, including even the Ashes."
Brearley explained the committee's over-riding worry was how to ensure Test cricket remained financially attractive to all leading players in an era of lucrative Twenty20 franchises leagues especially enticing to cricketers from relatively weak domestic economies such as South Africa and the West Indies.
"I think the mood of the committee was that there was, if not a crisis, a looming, a potential crisis and that this crisis needs to be noticed and taken seriously," he said.- AB's 'wake-up call' -
One of the highlights of the traditional cricket calendar -- the first Test between England and South Africa -- starts at Lord's on Thursday.
Yet South Africa star batsman AB de Villiers is set to miss the entire four-match series as he recuperates from being a multi-format player in demand from T20 leagues.
Asked if this was a "wake-up call" Brearley, after his last meeting as chairman before handing over to Mike Gatting -- another former Middlesex and England captain -- said: "It symbolises some of the problems, the issue and the tension."
Fellow committee member Brendon McCullum, the former New Zealand captain, added: "It's probably another red flag."
McCullum, 35, a self-styled global T20 "mercenary" since retiring from Test cricket last year, said: "Financially, there's probably plenty of money to go around."
He added: "We don't see T20 leagues as the devil by any stretch of imagination, but it's just how you have Test cricket be the pinnacle of the game and operate at the same time."
Meanwhile another committee member Ramiz Raja, the former Pakistan batsman, urged the International Cricket Council to make good on promises to introduce a World Test Championship designed to give the long format more context after plans to bring it in 2013 and this year too came to nothing.
Last month saw financial powerhouse India's share of world cricket revenues increased from $293 to $405 million.
The deal came after India complained about a decision in April to divide revenues more equitably among ICC members.
But Brearley said a more equal split, while "idealistic", was needed to ensure even competition that would "help everybody in the long-run".
"They (the Board of Control for Cricket in India) probably won't like it," he admitted before saying: "We can't really see how you have long-term security for international cricket unless something along these lines happens. It's not directed at the BCCI in a hostile way."
Although, the MCC committee, a "think tank", in Brearley's words, has no power to enforce change, its calls for day/night Tests and restrictions on bat size have since been heeded by cricket chiefs.