Letter to Cricket Australia: View from the outer suggests you need to take responsibility

20 April, 2018

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Dear Powerful People of Cricket Australia (PPoCA),

 

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” 
-Socrates

We have never met and we are never likely to meet. I am not a member of any celebrated cricket club. Nor do I have a stake in any lucrative financial activity. I know that one of you is called James Sutherland. I recently discovered that another one of you is called David Peever. I don’t know what the rest of you are called. Or indeed, whether collectively you are a “Board,” an “Executive team,” or wear a different label. Part of my difficulty is in not knowing who you are. As for me, I am a cricket fan. Each year I attend as many days of Test cricket as time and finances allow, which is usually one day. Otherwise I listen to radio coverage. follow reports online, read. Cricket is in my family story; I played park cricket for around 15 years.

 

Nevertheless, I write today to express my hefty and growing disappointment in your management of cricket in Australia. Given that you were able on the strength of the evidence you saw, to suspend three players from duty, I believe that similar evidence exists compelling you to stand down immediately from your own roles.

 

My disappointments are many. They include the tenor of your negotiations with the Australian Cricketers’ Association last year. They include the on-field cheating fiasco in South Africa and the conditions within which this was allowed to occur. They include watching fine cricketers be suspended for their part in events and yet observing no such penalties be applied to managers. My disappointments include awareness of a subsequent off-field broadcasting rights fiasco, in which you agreed to a television broadcast deal that will rob free-to-air coverage of one day international cricket. My disappointment in your management is strong and prolonged. This letter concentrates on the matters raised above. Further problematic episodes include the scheduling of Twenty20 cricket in preference to Shield cricket through December and January, and the narrow-eyed approach to foisting Day/Night Test cricket upon the players. Here I leave those aside in the interests of brevity. Other disappointments remain festering.

 

Cricket in Australia exists as both a game and as something much more than a game. It holds a lofty place in the storied history of European Australia. Many teams representing the best combined efforts of this land were formed before the country was itself federated. One hundred and fifty years ago, in 1868 Tom Wills took a team of Aboriginal Australians to tour England (Check out Sean Gorman here: https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/tom-wills-and-the-1868-tour-of-england/). That’s astounding. Can you imagine that?

The Aboriginal cricket team pictured with their captain and coach Tom Wills at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, December 1866. [click to enlarge]

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In the 150 years since, many players have come and gone; leaving marks and memories great and small. Some characters are remembered for moments, others for style, or even for philosophies. And yet, cricket remains a players’ game. In the 150 years since Tom Wills’ team toured England, countless administrators have also come and gone.

 

I understand that the conditions under which you now work at Cricket Australia are unique in the game’s history. Having to navigate the strenuous and competing demands of various countries, states, associations, broadcast networks and unions must be difficult; especially in the social media age; in the age of individualism, of consumerism.

 

However, to my eye it seems that you increasingly treat the international game as not only a product, but as your product. It seems to be your product to be marketed and sold; your product with which you to produce cash. This flogging of the Australian cricket brand is done increasingly at the expense of State and District –level competitions – the very competitions relied upon to produce players of international potential. It is also done at the expense of players themselves that represent Australia.

 

There are many problems with this approach. International cricket is not your product. It comes about through many inter-related relationships, competitions and conversations. It comes about not because of you, but in many ways despite you. Your exploitation of the national team has implications for players; who we must remember are also people with hopes. fears, foibles, strengths. People could reasonably ask what sort of a manager would grind their best asset into the ground in the way that you have treated SPD Smith in the past 12 months.

 

With disappointment I recall the tenor of your negotiations with the Australian Cricketers Association last year. Players – that is the men and women who play the game of cricket – were issued with an ultimatum regarding acceptance of a change to their employment contracts, lest their services be discontinued. The playing cohort was effectively sacked by management for a period of weeks last year, as the players decided to exercise their unionised strength. Such behaviour from management calls into question your decision-making qualities, priorities and, indeed, the culture of the executive board room. (Notwithstanding a certain level of entitlement that the players also exhibited).

 

Disappointment is my overwhelming reaction to the sad on-field cheating fiasco in South Africa and the conditions within which this was allowed to occur. I contributed to The Footy Almanac in the days following revelation of SPD Smith, DA Warner and CT Bancroft’s cheating and planning to cheat. (Check it out: https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/cheating-at-cricket-acceptable-standards-forgiveness-the-false-equivalence-of-metoo/).

Suffice to say, those young men, cricketers, are now dealing with their suspensions. How they navigate the world from here will not be straightforward for them. I’ve wondered about the penalties handed down by Cricket Australia (by you). I have wondered who made the decisions? Which of you powerful people made the decision to suspend each of three players, against a non-existent rubric, in a time of high public angst? I’m interested to understand why you chose to suspend them. I’m interested to know why you chose 12 months rather than 6 months (and rather than 18 months). I am interested.

 

From the outside, those involved in Australian cricket – not merely the team, not merely the coaching squad, not merely Cricket Australia – but rather the entire operation – appear as entitled, greedy and petulant. The public goading of England at the Ashes presentation ceremony in Sydney, January 2018, is a sufficiently galling example.

Cricket Australia demonstrate an interesting sense of humility.

The cricket public, your stakeholders, your “Australian cricket family” as you refer to us in your stage-managed email correspondence, have seen their players suspended. But it’s as if the root problem has been avoided. Scapegoats have been made of SPD Smith, DW Warner and CT Bancroft. Your Australian cricket family would be best served by seeing administrators punished at a similar scale and proportion to the players. You are the powerful people at Cricket Australia. You must take ultimate responsibility. Failure to do so is delusion. You fostered, or at the very least failed to dispel a culture of win-at-all-costs in the mens’ Test team to the point that three players felt compelled to cheat in order to gain an advantage.

 

Nowhere in a culturally sound institution does such a decision get made.

 

For too long administration has deflected blame during bad times and soaked up praise during good times. Your main sponsor of Test cricket in Australia cancelled their involvement. Is that a direct failure of Cricket Australia management, or not?

 

If it is good enough for cricketers be suspended for their part in events, it is good enough for crippling financial penalties and suspensions and damage to reputation to apply to you, the administrators.

 

However, I note that instead of stepping graciously aside while your governance and culture is reviewed, you have continued to act in your roles. And not without consequence. For you have managed to sign away all free-to-air coverage of one day international cricket – selling the rights to a private company. You have done this in spite of Commonwealth Government anti-siphoning legislation that gives first bid for sporting events deemed to be of national significance, to free-to-air bidders. A free-to-air bidder (Channel 7) is in cahoots with Foxtel in this case, and so of course did NOT take up the option to out-bid Foxtel. The upshot is that no one without payTV will see Australia’s one day international 2018-19 summer. No one without payTV will see the 15-or-so Big Bash League games deemed by TV executives to be the most valuable. Cricket has slipped behind the paywall. And you have let that happen. You celebrated it happening. You, who arguably should be serving a current suspension, anyway.

 

It seems reasonable that all decisions you have made since the Cape Town Test should be treated as null and void ahead of an independent review.

 

And while an independent review is being set up, perhaps it could examine some other curious decisions under your stewardship. For example, your insistence on playing Day/Night Test cricket against all advice and concern from players. For example, summer scheduling. For example, your position on sledging.

 

As cricket administrators, you need to be thoughtful and you need to be careful. Before any of you, cricket needs its cricketers. SPD Smith is by all accounts a level-headed cricket fanatic who found himself in a difficult mental space in Cape Town. Many of us would like to know the role you played in allowing that mental space to flourish; the desperate space in which SPD Smith found himself last month. He didn’t get there alone.

 

And unlike you, SPD Smith has admitted personal fault. He has acknowledged his part in the cheating episode. Which leads me to wonder. I wonder to whom you at Cricket Australia are accountable. I wonder about your motivations. Your “cricket family” is hurting and your actions to date seem self-serving. I wonder whether this is important to you. I wonder how you see your part in this story.

 

Regards, David Wilson

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Other reading on this:

Gideon Haigh – Review needs someone who knows the ropes but isn’t tied to them

Alex McFarlane – Cricket Australia’s James Sutherland should be held to account

Tony Featherstone – If the culture of the cricket team stinks its a governance issue

 

Greg Baum – Out Warner, In Worner

John Birmingham – The new television rights deal is just not cricket

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P.S. That DA Warner was headed down a self-destructive path was pretty clear to all and sundry. Here’s my article from 9 March. I wonder how he was assisted by management.
https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/almanac-cricket-davey-warner-and-the-deluded-toxic-masculinity-of-the-australian-cricketer-a-performance-in-six-acts/

 

About David Wilson

Hit for a towering 6 by Mike Gatting at the Banyule Cricket Club, December 2002, theatrically attempting to reproduce the SK Warne delivery. The ball is yet to land. @e_regnans

Comments

  1. David, i don’t see any mention of the name David Peever in your well thought out,articulate appraisal of Australian Cricket.

    One got the impression he played an important role in the dispute with the players. Similarly he didn’ t seem too adroit about his comments re Channel 10 in the television rights negotiations.

    Is he the driving force for the future of Australian cricket?

    Glen!

  2. ER this is powerful stuff. This asks Cricket Australia to question itself. That’s like asking a lion to go vegetarian. It won’t happen. This looks deeply into what cricket means to those who run it. This articulates the issues/problems with many professional sports these days.

    Everything is a commodity. Everything. Companies have “Human Resources” departments. Are we just a resource like coal or iron ore? Our children are described “as our greatest asset”. Are they just an asset, like a printing machine or a prime mover? A thing? Something to use up? Something we display like a new handbag? Our cricketers sit on the Balance Sheet of Cricket Australia alongside its I.P. and its valuable logo; all are impersonal, inanimate, and have a dollar value attached.

    Cricket could be the canary in the coal mine. But I have no idea where we are heading. I have no idea what’s in the coal mine anymore.

  3. E.regnans says:

    Hi Glen – thanks.
    D Peever is there in the 3rd line.
    No idea about his role nor his background nor to whom he is accountable.

    I wonder what skills and behaviours are valued by Cricket Australia.

  4. Yvette Wroby says:

    Thank you David. If this were a petition I would sign it. Dips we have all become canary’s !

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    This gives us a glimpse into the rights negotiations.

    http://dennisdoescricket.com/how-channel-10-lost-the-cricket/

    How much say do the two ex players on the board have?

    https://www.cricketaustralia.com.au/about/our-board

  6. e.r.
    Excellent stuff. I hung on every word – and agreed.
    I sincerely hope that you printed this, put it into an envelope, and sent it off to the Cricket Australia offices at Jolimont.
    As Swish points out above, the Dennis Freedman article gives a particularly instructive view regarding the morally bankrupt way in which CA allegedly operates.

  7. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    ER,
    I hope they respect the time, effort, thought and feeling you put into this letter and give you a decent response. However, I suspect that the ‘Family’ will be too busy counting their money from the recent broadcast rights to bother with those who actually care about the sport, its history and future. Superbly written mate. Kudos to you, Dave.

  8. Wonderful piece David. Thoughtful at many levels. I agree with every word. And long since ceased to care.
    “When I was a kid my home ran away from me.”
    “You mean you ran away from home?”
    “No – we lived in a covered wagon and I fell out.”
    (Apologies to Simon and Shuster – but their gag expresses my attitude to the sport that was my first love as a boy. Irrelevant to me at many levels.)

  9. Peter Crossing says:

    Excellent letter.
    Cricket Australia has much to answer for.
    So do the selectors.
    So does the Australian Cricketer’s Association.
    So do the players in the Test team and the ex-coach.
    So it goes.
    Sad.

  10. Ta David, I must have speed read the third line.

    David Peever is from Rio Tinto, a huge minerals company well know for union busting activities and a less than pristine regard for the environment. He’s also held important positions in the Business Council of Australia and the Minerals Council of Australia. To say those two bodies are only concerned about increasing the wealth of their membership is akin to saying the pope is a Catholic.

    Cricket is business, thus people like David Peevers will drive the agenda. Sport itself can be viewed as part of an entertainment industry as everything around us is commodified. Spectators, players, they don’t count beyond how much $$ can be made from them.

    Glen!

  11. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    OBP you nailed it Please add the name Pat Howard

  12. Luke Reynolds says:

    Brilliantly put ER.
    Rulebook is spot on, the name Pat Howard should have had far more scrutiny. General Manager of Team Performance. Huge role in setting the team’s culture.

  13. John Butler says:

    But Luke/Rulebook, after 6 years in the job, are we any closer to knowing what Pat Howard actually does?

    I hold little expectation for this alleged review. A supposedly more comprehensive review was conducted in 2011 when Don Argus was charged with the task. It’s been pretty much downhill since then. The likes of Peever are just further iterations of the same mentality and attitudes.

    E Reg, you ask many pertinent questions here. Precisely for that reason, I wouldn’t be holding my breath for a CA response. The TV deal money will be used to justify all. The consequences of the deal will only be apparent in the longer term.

  14. E.regnans says:

    Thanks for all of your contributions (above).
    This whole mess is clearly concerning.
    Your comments here add weight to the sense of bewilderment.

  15. Excellent points David. Of course we can replace Cricket Australia with AFL and your letter still rings alarmingly true.

    Interesting that cricket hasn’t been shown on terrestrial tele in England since 2005, but will be on the BBC, in part, from 2020. Can you imagine a fifteen year period in this country during which cricket was only on pay TV? Don’t think too hard.

    Thanks for this.

  16. So now the calendar says November 2018.

    D Peever introduced himself to us all last month. And has gone. Though no one could claim that self-reflection nor a taking of responsibility seemed to occur.
    P Howard is going. (has gone?)
    J Sutherland is going (has gone?)
    SPD Smith, DA Warner and CT Bancroft live now as gossip-page oddities.

    The foxtel contract looks like marginalising ODI cricket as a fringe sport.

    It is painful to see. Are there any repercussions, aside from losing their current jobs, for those former high-ranking Cricket Australia decision-makers? They will each surely find a high-paying future job, and get on with their lives largely uninterrupted. Compare that to the life story of SPD Smith, for example.

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