Sunday, May 22, 2011

An Open Letter to Cricket Australia

by Balanced Sports columnist Ben Roberts

Dear Cricket Australia,

As a cricket fan who grew up loving the greatest era of Australian cricket ever, throughout the 1990s and 2000s, I run the huge risk of being labelled the fairest of fair weather supporters by writing this. But I continue at this great personal risk. From now I am reneging my emotional attachment to the Australian Cricket team until further notice.

This has zero to do with the on-field exploits of the players who, despite the home loss of the Ashes and the World Cup are now faced with a need to improve, still retain my utmost respect. It has everything to do with the failure of the Cricket Australia administration.

Cricket administrators hold more power and sway than any other sports administration, and this has been a truism since W.G. Grace was in short pants. Many have received honour of the highest order in the game despite never having graced the field at the highest level. But the influence of the modern administration of Australian cricket has plunged to such a depth of crises that I struggle to understand how it can pull itself from without radical overhaul – an overhaul that appears as likely to happen as a Sachin Tendulker first ball duck.

My Sunday perusal of the sporting media has identified one decision and one practice of Cricket Australia that completely boggles my mind as to how they can be considered acceptable in themselves. This is apart from the fact Australian cricket is supposedly going through a full scale independent review into the current situation. A review that I have previously highlighted is made more toothless by the day with major decisions being made without consideration of review findings!

Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers Association, holding a permanent loggerhead relationship, have this week agreed to roll over their memorandum of understanding on playing conditions. In a world of consistent practice and fixtures this would be unremarkable and may evoke a little applause. But with the advent of the new Big Bash League a constant MOU focussing on getting players as much money out of the T20 cash cow as possible, coupled with an extended T20 fixture, simply shifts more money away from the first-class and List A games and into T20.

As I heard Gideon Haigh point out, you are now considered more valuable by Cricket Australia if you can slog 20 runs from 10 balls than for crafting centuries. Cricket Australia, have you not realised that the crowds and ratings are still incredibly strong for Test cricket whose quality needs a strong first-class game? Or did you go to sleep while the rest of the cricketing world watched a tremendous festival of 50 over cricket in the recent World Cup?

As a CEO James Sutherland continues to be your greatest accountant. There is no doubt that with a weak board Sutherland appears to hold you over the barrel on the basis of continued short term income results. Not a bad effort for an organisation that ostensibly is supposed to be non-profit driven. But this is the extent that Sutherland’s accounting knowledge ends, his knowledge of appropriate governance practice is seemingly non-existent as the second piece of news I came across indicates.

This far reaching (yet weakening) review is apparently being hamstrung by Sutherland’s presence at all interviews being conducted. The idea of an independent review or an audit is that an unattached set of eyes are presented with information and seek to understand why particular decisions are made. Sutherland’s presence, and therefore influence over information provided by pressurised employees being interviewed, is the final nail in the coffin of a review that has already been cut off at the knees. Clearly controlling and concerned for his future, Sutherland’s behaviour paints to me a character with less than a passing interest in honesty and transparency.

Cricket Australia, if your board had any sort of fortitude it would be holding its senior management to greater account than it is, and this is a great shame. Please look to your counterparts at the ECB, trustees of the strongest domestic game in the world, for some idea of what it means to invest for the future. I cannot stop applauding some recent decisions of the ECB, and for England fans this will continue to be reflected on the field. Based on this I need to make this step of withdrawing my emotional support for Australian cricket team until such time as there are changes at Board and CEO level.

I love cricket too much to stay away. Short of spiritual or familial pursuits it is almost unarguable that a summers day attending the cricket for me borders on perfection. My regular match day attendance will remain as the next cricket season rolls on, but when it comes to emotional investment in the national team I must hold back. This will cost me in the times of success, as I cannot permit myself to enjoy them fully under such restriction.

It has been a wonderful relationship for all these years Cricket Australia, but until you grow up we must remain only acquaintances.

Yours Previously,

Ben Roberts

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Ben Roberts also writes at Books with Balls, where you find reviews of books that guys read.

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