Sport Cricket D-day for Australian cricket. Be sceptical

D-day for Australian cricket. Be sceptical

david warner steve smith
David Warner and Steve Smith, now playing grade cricket, have carried most of the blame for the cheating scandal. Photos: AAP
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Today is the day. Cricket Australia will make public the findings of the cultural reviews it commissioned into its own operations: one into the national men’s team, one into the corporate side of the organisation.

The question is whether these reviews will have any rigour or if they’re an exercise in public relations.

It’s easy to be sceptical given that CA recently promoted a new CEO and offered a new term to its chairman before the reviews were released. Both Kevin Roberts and David Peever were heavily involved in the administration that required the review.

CA also delayed releasing the reviews until Roberts’ job was confirmed by the board and Peever’s by the annual general meeting.

Nor have there been consequences for any other board directors who oversaw the disastrous and expensive pay war with the players in 2017, then the collapse of the Test team thanks to a widely panned ‘win at all costs’ approach.

In fact the only directors to depart have been Bob Every, who quit in protest at Peever getting a new term, and Tony Harrison, who was past retirement age and had reached the end of a long stint in the job.

Kevin Roberts
Ahead of the culture review, Cricket Australia unveiled Kevin Roberts, the man who presided over last year’s bitter pay dispute, as successor to long-serving CEO James Sutherland. Photo: AAP

CA is a non-profit exempt from tax, subsidised by taxpayers, yet its mode of operation has often matched for-profit corporations – a lack of transparency about why decisions are made, a lack of honesty about why things go wrong, and a lack of accountability for those responsible.

Those in powerful jobs have often been forgiven or rewarded for their failures. Mirroring the tactics so prevalent recently in politics, problems don’t need to be solved when their existence can be denied.

The ball-tampering in Cape Town last March was so blatant it couldn’t be denied. But don’t mistake CA’s response – suspending three players and commissioning the reviews – as the result of soul-searching. It was more that an enraged public demanded concrete action. So did the corporate backers whose sponsorships were being devalued.

For this reason, the review’s findings will be telling. One can’t expect too much from the team review – made up largely of current players, it would be tough to expect them to go hard on their colleagues and environment.

It was also a curious CA quirk that national men’s coach Justin Langer was on that review panel, into a team and culture that he was part of building for decades.

The corporate review is being run independently by The Ethics Centre, but that organisation’s review into the often disastrous Australian Olympic Committee was notoriously gentle given the materials at hand.

It’s hard to imagine the results will matter that much, anyway. When it comes to change, the top ranks at CA’s Jolimont headquarters have already proved as unwilling to entertain it in the past couple of weeks as they were before players were caught sandpapering a ball.

The only change has been on the field with the men’s team – the national women, it should be noted, have gone on winning and remaining scandal-free.

Personnel in the men’s team changes by the day. Anyone who makes a decent Shield score is in with a Test chance. Replacement captain Tim Paine is doing his best to hold it together, and to make a point of decency and respect to opponents on the field.

This much has had an effect: having commentated the Test tours against both South Africa and Pakistan this year, I’ve had prime position in terms of hearing everything that has come through the stump microphones. Where the previous tour was full of spittle and spite, the recent one flipped that entirely. Paine is full of chat and encouragement for his players, but his rating is strictly PG. Those around him are following that lead.

That will continue through the home summer. But it’s a season that looms as tricky in terms of results. A threadbare batting lineup will face an India squad with five excellent fast bowlers and three quality spinners.

Home conditions should still favour even modestly qualified home batsmen but there’s a chance Australia could get rolled. Certainly India has never have a better opportunity to do some rolling. And if that happens, some around Australian cricket will blame Paine’s approach more than the parlous state of his resources.

It would also ease the return of the suspended players – failure is a tremendous ethical solvent. But that doesn’t mean opprobrium should be aimed at them.

Steve Smith, Cameron Bancroft and especially David Warner have carried the brunt of public blame and punishment, handed out by those at Cricket Australia who have been entirely unwilling to apply the same standards to themselves.

Geoff Lemon is the author of Steve Smith’s Men: Behind Australian Cricket’s Fall, to be published on November 1.

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