Rotting fish

Cricket Australia released its report into the culture of the Australian cricket team yesterday. It was scathing, not just of the culture within the team, but of the ethics and culture of cricket administration in general. It was welcome news.

What’s not so welcome is how CA have effectively siloed responsibility. We have three high profile cricketers banned from playing international or local domestic cricket for 12 months – a penalty that much exceeds what the statutes recommended. The penalties were widely accepted by an Australian public shocked and horrified by the events of South Africa, and in general, wearied by the petulant behaviour of the national team. I was one of those.

It’s no surprise to find that the actions of a few players on-field were in character with the general ethos of the administration in general. To be clear, I’m not suggesting CA condones cheating or abuse, but in the quest to be number one I doubt there was any clear distinction and much that was blurred. Certainly, there appeared much that was accepted, if only by omission.

The problem now is that while the players have been vilified and penalised much of the administration has got off scot free. True, the coach left of his own volition, and Pat Howard, the performance manager, is going also (as he should), but the higher echelons of CA are unscathed. This imbalance was highlighted by the fact that the chairman was reinstated (upon his insistence) before the report was sighted. If nothing else this is a perversion of due process, but very much aligns with the criticisms outlined in the report. It doesn’t inspire one with confidence.

If only for the optics, there should have been a root and branch review of positions, and I would have hoped that key figures would have accepted it was time for them to step aside, as James Sutherland did. Instead, we have a situation where the administration, by and large, survives – despite explicit criticism – while the penalised players carry the can. Now that’s un-Australian.

Everyone has an opinion on something like this. They talk about culture and so on, and yeah, that’s valid, but it comes down to leadership in my book. This situation would never have occurred had there been strong, just leadership. Unfortunately – as in many industries – CA has fallen into the habit in recent years of promoting people to roles they’re not fully capable of.

Let’s start with Steve Smith, a great batsman and, on the strength of that, made captain, as so often is the case, as if the ability to wield the willow automatically equates to superior leadership qualities. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. I’ve been saying this for years, Smith never had the innate authority required to do the role effectively. To be a leader you need to stand for something, you need to be strong in your principles and character, and you must compel those who follow. Smith lacked all of those qualities. It was unreasonable and unfair to put someone like that in that role, and we paid the consequences.

Then there was Boof Lehmann. Nice guy by all accounts, and probably a handy (but limited) coach. He’s also a bit of an old-fashioned yobbo very much out of step with the mores of society today. Smith allowed things to develop out of weakness, and Lehmann because he never took them seriously enough.

Then you’ve got the chairman, who took an adversarial approach in the pay negotiations last year, and who has a history in adversarial industrial relations when he was at Rio Tinto. It’s the wrong character set and wrong approach all down the line, and we see how it’s played out.

I think this report is good and some of the steps taken thus far are appropriate – Tim Paine, for example, epitomises the sort of leadership we should be aspiring to. That’s not enough though. Changes have been made within the test team, but at the top end, nothing has changed. I don’t think there are many who would disagree when I suggest that Peever should have stepped down, and still should. Until that happens there cannot be complete confidence in this board, or in the steps they take to rectify the sins of the past.

PS Peever resigned as Chairman a couple of days after I wrote this, as he should have from the start. The whole thing poorly managed. In a situation like this doing the right thing and being seen as doing the right thing are almost equally important. They got the optics wrong – more evidence, unfortunately, of how out of touch and arrogant they are. Hopefully the new chairman, whoever he is, will make a difference.

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