By Marcus Honesta
I had that check the calendar, was a Christmas? It’s certainly not my birthday. But what could it possibly be to bring such a joy to a rainy day in the suburbs of my Sydney.
And then I read further and I thought, yes there is a God, he has got a sense of humour, and eventually justice will prevail and all things will return to equilibrium.
Having bungled appallingly the administration of Cricket Australia for longer then it should have been ever allowed, the talentless bean counter from Melbourne, James Sutherland has decided to stand down as the Cricket Australia chief executive after 17 years, setting a 12-month exit period to finish up before officially departing in 2019.
Good God; twelve months can’t come quick enough for we the cricketing family of Australia to see the back of a fellow who’s lack of vision, incompetency to the point of negligence and downright pigheaded corporate greed together with his egotistical self-indulgence has plunged the game into such a parlous state.
Single-handedly has he constructed edifice so complex around him, to make the Tower of Bable looked like a well-planned and sensible undertaking. (Genesis 11:4). “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” Yes and we all know what happened to it!
Through his empire building bureaucratic mismanagement and self-serving layers that abound the organisation the true essence of cricket itself: the players, the sponsors and we the supporters have become the inevitable casualties and victims of his tenure of and at Cricket Australia management.
Let us not consider the potential disaster and lack of transparency over the entire media package that he has negotiating with Fox and the Seven Network, with the potential to unravel the anti-siphoning agreements that have stood for some 40 years over free to air cricket broadcasting this summer. We must all wait, with baited breath, as only time remains to see what this will mean. Neither the government nor the communications minister seemed to have any understanding of the implications of the commercial reality of the deals that have been done behind closed doors.
Sutherland’s managed exit may or may not be a further outcome of the ball-tampering scandal, but it is guaranteed to create a stampede for his job both within the governing body’s Jolimont headquarters and in corporate circles around it.
It was further evidence of the chairman David Peever lack of control that he allowed him the luxury of the 12 months departure he wishes. At the same time Peever confirmed he had the CA Board’s backing to continue for another three years. Oh dear!
As such, Peever is looking increasingly like the lone survivor of Newlands and its aftermath, which has so far included bans for the captain Steven Smith, deputy David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, the resignation of the coach Darren Lehmann, the hurried removal of the head of integrity – and Cape Town investigator – Iain Roy and now the end of Sutherland’s long stint at the helm. At the same time the former board director Kevin Roberts has been promoted to chief operating officer, a role Sutherland had previously declined to furnish. That places Roberts in the vanguard of a candidate list that may also include the former NSW chairman John Warn, the state’s chief executive and former CA strategist Andrew Jones, and the recently appointed game development chief Belinda Clark.
It is believed that the CA Board had wanted Sutherland to outline an exit strategy for quite some time. Peever, who reckoned there would be a “slight bias” towards candidates who are both Australian and insiders to cricket, explained that he and Sutherland had discussed the CEO’s future for almost the entirety of his time since becoming chairman in 2015, with the recent Ashes summer considered an appropriate end point. However, they subsequently agreed he should stay on to see through the completion of a new, A$1.18 billion television rights deal – Newlands took place in between.
“When James and I were getting clearer about timing we talked about the end of the successful men’s and women’s Ashes summer as a good juncture,” Peever said in Melbourne. “But then we talked more about it and said we really need to complete the media rights process. There is no good time, there is always something going on in cricket, and so we decided then that after media rights were completed that James would announce.
“Clearly, the ball-tampering issue has created upheaval, we’ve got the review process going on. I think it has also helped us understand better the extraordinary passion that Australians have for cricket and the importance of us as administrators to make sure we’re tapping back into that passion and respecting that passion, and indeed our strategy goes very strongly back to fans and grassroots.
“The board has asked me to do another term [as chairman] and I’ve agreed to do that. I think at times like this continuity is important, so we have transition to a new CEO, we have leadership changes in the Australia men’s set-up, we have a massive summer coming up which we’re all excited about, we have a World Cup and Ashes next year, we’ve got a World T20 in 2020, we’ve got new financial models, we’ve got new broadcasters, so on the basis of all those things going on, with James transitioning out, I’ve agreed to do another term.”
Having joined CA as a lieutenant of Malcolm Speed, Sutherland was only 35 when named chief executive in 2001. He has overseen a period of growth but also great turmoil, featuring issues such as Shane Warne’s 2003 drugs ban, the decline of the national team from 2007 until the Don Argus-led review of team performance in 2011, the dramatic sacking of the coach Mickey Arthur and replacement by Darren Lehmann in 2013, the death of Phillip Hughes in 2014 and the “Big Three” takeover of the ICC in the same year, and then last’s year’s hot-tempered MoU dispute, a process he was kept out of by Peever before ultimately intervening late in the piece.
Sutherland may have hoped to stay on until hosting the World Twenty20 in 2020, but he will now leave around the same time that Smith and Warner return to the playing arena. In this commentators view, tomorrow would be too late.