Australia news October 26, 2011

CA looks beyond the baggy green

Australian cricket can no longer rely on the iconography of the baggy green to draw fans and players from an increasingly diverse community, the Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland has said.

On the eve of CA's annual general meeting in Melbourne, to be followed by the board meeting at which the chairman Jack Clarke will hand over his post to the former Test batsman Wally Edwards, Sutherland spoke to ESPNcricinfo about the body's strategic plan for the next four years.

Unlike the previous editions of the plan, it will not be titled 'From Backyard to Baggy Green', a tacit acknowledgement of how cricket must broaden itself to reflect Australian society, culture and financial reality.

Instead, the plan stresses the need for cricket to better reflect the wishes of fans, be they families with an entrenched annual pilgrimage to the MCG for Boxing Day, or recent immigrants with no particular affinity for the national team and its players.

"There's an element of truth that comes through in our research that shows there are a whole lot of people in Australia who don't necessarily relate to the Australian cricket team in the way that many other cricket fans do," Sutherland said. "That's largely because of their background, culturally in terms of coming from a different country or alternatively just that they didn't grow up with cricket as a sport and develop an affinity with the team.

"That's not the only way a fan can connect with and relate to cricket, there are lots of other ways. It could be in terms of grassroots, club or school cricket, or it could be in terms of entertainment, perhaps engaging with or supporting a BBL team and going along on a Thursday or Friday night to watch a BBL match and have a bit of fun and enjoy the game and follow your team."

"One of the critical parts of putting fans first is realising we've got a vision to be Australia's favourite sport, and to be that you need to be a sport for all Australians. If we want to lay claim to that, then we need to be able to boast a fan-base that is diverse and covers males and females, young and old and people from all backgrounds, cultural and others. We see the BBL can do that in an even better way than international cricket can and perhaps ideally it can also serve as an entrée to an appetite for cricket in other forms."

The place of the national team remains honoured, as seen in the rapid implementation of recommendations from the Argus review. However Sutherland admitted its success was now seen more as a means towards the end of growing the game in Australia, rather than the end in itself.

"A sport like cricket, or rugby for that matter, where the national team is very much the flagship of the sport in the country, there will often be a temptation to judge the success and health of a sport by the performances of the national team," Sutherland said. "To a certain extent that is true, but we see the success of the Australian cricket team as being incredibly important, but not the only thing that is important and yes to some extent it means that it is a means to an end.

"The real health, the real indicators of how strong cricket is and how healthy cricket is, is the extent to which cricket engages with the Australian community and it does that on all sorts of levels, not just through the Australian team. Whether it's a junior participation program or the BBL or the Boxing Day Test, engaging with cricket fans and the Australian community is what we're all about."

The Twenty20 Big Bash League, to be contested in December and January directly opposite the Test series against India, is the boldest reflection of CA's push towards a wider audience. It is also central to another key theme of the plan - that of raising a greater amount of local revenue so as to make cricket more self-sufficient.

"There's no doubt we can look at some other sports in Australia and they have an element of self-sufficiency about them," Sutherland said. "Putting it a different way, having an ability to be in greater control of their own destiny. Not to say we're not, but there is a reliance on the global scene, on international cricket, on the ICC, on member countries and on inter-relationships and bilateral relationships between everyone.

"It's been something that has stood the test of time in cricket, but at the same time you do see situations where there are obstacles to things happening, and we see on one hand a mitigation of risk, but on the other hand as well, we don't have to the same extent as the AFL or NRL our own national league that offers high levels of fan engagement, and we really believe the BBL is a great opportunity to take that step of having a league that engages cricket fans but also to broaden our reach."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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