The 36-year relationship between Australian cricket and the Nine Network is in danger of splitting after the sport's ruling body launched legal action against the station.

Cricket Australia, which derives about 80 per cent of its income from TV rights to cricket coverage, has filed a writ against Nine, which holds the rights in Australia.

While the dispute centres on the broadcast of domestic cricket on free-to-air TV, at stake are the rights to Test cricket, including the Ashes series.

International cricket is the bedrock on which Kerry Packer built his Nine empire in the 1970s and 1980s. One of the main shareholders of Ten, which is challenging Nine for the rights, is Mr Packer's son, James.

''When you have been partners for more than 30 years, you have to be backed into a corner to take such dramatic action as a lawsuit,'' said a party close to the negotiations. ''Talks broke down and this was the only course available.'' The broadcasting rights are worth an estimated $350 million.

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