Australians are bored with cricket and our players are underperforming. As CEO of Cricket Australia, it’s up to James Sutherland to resurrect our national summer sport and oversee the biggest shake-up cricket has seen since the Packer World Series revolution of the 1970s.
In Packer’s day the players took on the establishment to try and drag the game into the modern professional era. Now, administrators like Sutherland are fighting underperformance and disinterest to keep the game ticking.
“I don’t think cricket has ever faced the uncertainties it faces today,” the 46-year-old Sutherland told The Australian Financial Review last year.
Tall, lanky and fresh-faced, the former Ernst & Young accountant and first-class cricketer has spent much of his professional life in and around sport’s administrative offices.
He played and coached Melbourne University’s First XI, spent some time in the finance department at Carlton Football Club before moving on to bigger things at what was then the Australian Cricket Board. Three years later he was in the top job.
While Sutherland may not have set the world on fire bowling medium pace for Victoria (despite once claiming a 19-year-old Ricky Ponting hit wicket), as an administrator it’s his potential to act on the challenges now facing the sport that make him so powerful. And in his tenth year as CEO of CA, Sutherland’s current key priority is to address the Argus report, a swingeing review into the state of on-field performance by businessman Don Argus.
The inquiry, which was one of a number of reviews commissioned by the CA board in the wake of last summer’s diabolical Ashes series loss to England, led to the scalps of selectors Andrew Hilditch, Greg Chappell and coach Tim Nielsen.
There are many recommendations handed down by the Argus review yet to be acted on, but one outcome could be the entrenched influence of Sutherland.
“One of the outcomes of that is I think the chief executive will be further empowered and further accountable for performance of the Australian team,” says Malcolm Speed, the former CEO of the International Cricket Council and Sutherland’s predecessor as head of the old ACB, who was on the five-man committee alongside Argus and former greats Allan Border, Steve Waugh and Mark Taylor.
Part of Sutherland’s increased accountability will come from the appointment of former Wallaby Pat Howard to the newly-created role of general manager of performance. He’ll join Sutherland to appoint a new national coach to work across junior, state and national teams, with results expected to follow.
Sutherland could also be even more empowered by what comes out of the Crawford-Carter review into corporate governance to be released later this year. According to some news reports there is a chance the review could advocate an AFL-style commission, taking away the power of the state bodies who dominate the CA board.
There is a sense at the moment that Sutherland can’t make the same moves as his fellow sporting administrators because of the states, that his hands are tied due to directors pursuing their own interests. But that’s something Speed rejects.
“They [the board] are sometimes focused on state issues, rather than national issues,” Speed tells The Power Index. “I read somewhere that James Sutherland doesn’t have the power of the other chief executives because of the board structure, I don’t think that’s correct.”
Aside from governance and performance issues, Sutherland has also been charged with leading the game into a new entertainment era. It will be up to him to counter the poor attendance and TV ratings figures (last year’s Ashes series aside) which have marred the game’s image in recent years.