The Cricket Australia board has no plans to replace James Sutherland, having reviewed his position recently, but the pressure will grow unless there is a quick improvement in the Test arena.
It’s understood the CA board of directors retain strong faith in Sutherland, with the sport prospering commercially despite being set to post a $68.4 million loss this summer. However, in the four-year cycle in which CA works, from 2014-17, the governing body expects to post a $50 million profit.
But the core product remains the standing of the international team, particularly in the Test arena, and it’s here where Sutherland, in his 15th year as CEO, faces his third rebuild. The first came after the mass retirements, including those of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, at the end of the 2006-07 season, and the second in the wake of the 2010-11 Ashes defeat and the release of the Argus report.
Kevin Roberts, who will lead CA’s negotiations with the players over a new memorandum of understanding, is seen as Sutherland’s logical replacement should there be change. Roberts is a former NSW batsman, a former CA board director and has worked in the business world.
The CA board reviews Sutherland’s position annually in September – he is assessed on commercial and team performances – and since September 2014 he has been on an employee salary deal, rather than a fixed contract.
His next review could be bruising, for Australia will have also endured a potentially treacherous four Tests in India from February.
CA chairman David Peever was unavailable for comment on Thursday, but said in statement while announcing the appointment of Trevor Hohns as interim chairman of selectors: “Naturally the board and our senior executive are disappointed with the recent Test performances, but we have every confidence that all those involved, including our coaching staff and team management, will do their utmost to turn that around.”
Sutherland this week said his future would be decided by the board.
“Ultimately that’s a decision for the board if I’m the right person. Things have been highlighted that we need to explore. We’ll take responsibility and try to understand things better,” he said.
It’s understood host broadcaster Channel Nine has growing concerns about the Test team’s poor performances, with ratings already falling in the losing Perth Test last week compared to the winning Perth Test against New Zealand last summer. That this Test is shown in prime-time on the eastern seaboard makes the ratings of particular concern for all parties.
Cricket insiders have also not forgotten the statement Nine issued in a trading update in April when it blamed weaker-than-expected ratings in part on the standard of international cricket last summer – even though Australia had crunched New Zealand and the West Indies in the Test series.
In a biting update, Nine said: “Nine’s summer of cricket was adversely impacted by both the weather and the standard of the competition”, with almost a third of scheduled play days lost. Sydney’s New Year’s Test was all but washed out.
In the two heavy defeats against the Proteas, the Perth Test at least went deep into the final day, but the Hobart debacle lasted only three-and-a-half days, of which day two was washed out.
Network executives have always decreed Australians “love a winner”, and Nine will hope Steve Smith’s team is far more competitive in the day-night, pink-ball Test in Adelaide next week, and against Pakistan in the three-Test series in the heart of the summer. The Ashes awaits next summer.
Broadcast rights are the backbone of the sport, and Nine’s chief executive Hugh Marks has already made it clear “there won’t be an increase like there was last time” in the new round of rights, with negotiations to officially open soon.
Offsetting the international troubles is that the Big Bash League remains a ratings winner, averaging about one million viewers per night. Crowds have flocked to the Twenty20 glitz, although CA was initially on the back foot when blindsided by the birth of the Indian Premier League in 2008. The new BBL broadcasting contract is likely to treble in value, from $20 million a year to $60 million.
CA also enjoys lucrative overseas rights, although, as Dean Jones noted in his Fairfax Media column, ratings for Tests on the subcontinent “are falling at a rapid rate”.
To Sutherland’s credit, he has been a major proponent of change in Test cricket, initially backing plans for a two-tiered, promotion-relegation system – but that was scuttled by India and Sri Lanka. The International Cricket Council is now analysing the merits of a conference-style format.
CA’s home scheduling has also been an issue this summer. Players remain dumbfounded that only one Sheffield Shield match – and that being a pink-ball clash – was presented before the first Test, this coming after a one-day series in South Africa.
The 2011 Argus report into the failings of CA, chaired by business chief Don Argus, called for multiple Shield matches to be scheduled ahead of all home summers. Sutherland has rejected assertions CA has become too commercially driven.
“I accept that someone can always run an argument to say we don’t treat it as the priority it deserves to be, because ultimately at one end of the extreme you can say it is the priority and, therefore, everything else gets cast aside and all you play is Test cricket,” he said on ABC radio in Hobart.
“But the reality is we want to have the best teams in the world and we want to win every game we play whether it’s Test cricket, one-day cricket, or T20 cricket. But the fact of the matter is we play the three forms and we’ve got to find a way to do that on balance. There’s another end of the extreme that says we have three different teams. We don’t want to go down that path but [be] somewhere in between. We’ll always make judgments and people will always be in a position to say maybe you’re not prioritising it as much. Test cricket is important but it’s not the only thing.”
James Sutherland’s hits and misses:
* Presided over one of Australia cricket’s greatest eras under Steve Waugh
* Developed the Twenty20 Big Bash League and the women’s BBL
* Australia’s players are among world’s highest paid
* Sport is now flourishing at grassroots level
* Pioneered day-night pink ball Tests
* Introduced a revamped independent CA board
* Overseen a new team management structure
* Commercial finances are strong – record broadcast rights
* A failure to identify Twenty20 explosion with IPL getting the jump
* Ashes failures, the 2010-11 defeat sparking the Argus review
* Team failures on the subcontinent
* Poor team succession planning. The Argus report called for “rigorous succession planning”.
* Messy handling of the Mickey Arthur sacking
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