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Sutherland breaks silence on homework fiasco

Daniel Brettig

May 15, 2013

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James Sutherland at the announcement of the Commonwealth Bank as Australia's major sponsor, Sydney, May 15, 2013
James Sutherland at the announcement of the Commonwealth Bank as Australia's major sponsor © Getty Images
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James Sutherland, the Cricket Australia chief executive, has spoken for the first time about the "homework" fiasco that enveloped the national team on a horrid tour of India, stating his displeasure at how the squad's discipline broke down to the point that four players including then vice-captain Shane Watson were suspended from a Test match.

At the time of the suspensions, which also ruled James Pattinson, Usman Khawaja and Mitchell Johnson out of contention for the third Test of the series in Mohali in March, Sutherland was overseas and conspicuous by his absence from CA's public response to the episode, leaving the team performance manager Pat Howard to field questions. However Sutherland told ESPNcricinfo that he had since gained a deep understanding of the issues at play, and stressed to team management that such a scenario could not be allowed to unfold again.

"My starting point with all of that is personally I'm disappointed we got to that stage," Sutherland said. "I now have a pretty in-depth understanding of where and how it got to there and I'm still disappointed that it happened in the circumstances when it got to there and how it got to there.

"I'm supportive of the decisions that were made at the time and I'm a really firm believer in the fact that those decisions will ultimately stand us in good stead as we build to sustained performance at the highest level. I think it's pretty well understood internally what I think about it, and the need for us to ensure those things are dealt with better before they ever get to that stage."

While Sutherland was hesitant to attribute the suspensions and their prelude to any one major factor, he conceded that communication within the team had broken down, leaving players unaware of how badly the team's captain Michael Clarke, coach Mickey Arthur and team manager Gavin Dovey felt that standards had slipped. It was an area the absence of the retired Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey was keenly felt.

"It would be dangerous to narrow it down to one or two things," Sutherland said. "It was a culmination of a whole lot of things, and to pinpoint it as being communication of people not necessarily understanding where they were … yes that is one of the reasons no doubt. But there's a whole lot of others as well I think."

Issues of leadership and character within Australian cricket had been on Sutherland's mind well before the events of India, and he would like to see greater emphasis placed on the education of young players so that their responsibilities to teammates and the game as a whole are better understood, alongside their burgeoning skills as batsmen and bowlers.

"Clearly we want to be building or developing the best players and part of that is developing players who are not only capable in a cricketing sense," Sutherland said. "They are strong of character, they're highly resilient, they're able to adapt, and they have all of these character traits. To some extent you're born with those and to some extent they're circumstantial according to your environment and also they can be developed.

"That's part of our challenge as a sport in developing our best talent is to do that even better in this day and age, understanding the variability of cricket today, the need to adapt and the need to be resilient, to get through tough conditions in a foreign country you might never have visited before. All of those things are part of character.

"That comes back to our point about sending more younger players away for longer periods to learn what it's like to try to fight through a six-week tour when you can't make a run and fight your way through it. Phil Hughes in India, it wasn't great to see him early on in the tour, but the way he fought through that tour of India I thought was fantastic, just the sort of stuff we want to see from our players when they're down."

Sutherland said plans were in the works to extend CA's remit to educate players at an earlier age, the better to prepare them for a game that is now split across three formats and a wide variety of attitudes and career paths, from the Baggy Green ideal now co-opted by the Commonwealth Bank as the new major sponsor of the Test team, to the individualism and money upfront mentality of the IPL, BBL and other Twenty20 leagues.

"One of the things we will want to do over the next couple of years is identify and work with that talent at an even younger age than we have in the past," Sutherland said. "We've tended to let the cream rise to the top in recent times, but perhaps we need to nurture those high potential players a little bit earlier, and develop their other character beyond their cricket abilities and prepare them for what's next.

"It's not a lesson out of India, it's something we've been talking about for quite some time, certainly I've been speaking to Pat Howard about it ever since he started [in 2011]. We've been talking about nurturing our young, talented teenagers a little bit earlier than we have in the past. Some other sports do that very well and I'd like to see cricket doing a lot more of that in the next little while."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by Meety on (May 17, 2013, 1:36 GMT)

@bobagorof on (May 15, 2013, 23:35 GMT) - there is no evidence, but that won't stop the knockers knocking! == == == Another aspect that annoys me about Sutherlands take on this, is he says communication was an issue, but doesn't delve into the fact (as stated at the time), that there were a number of other issues that had occurred in recent time. In isolation - the homeworkgate saga was an overreaction, but unless you were a part of the build up to it, you cannot claim to know the full story. Judging by the vague statements that Sutheraland has made (...pretty in-depth understanding of where and how it got to there and I'm still disappointed that it happened in the circumstances when it got to there and how it got to there.) - plain gobbly-gook, he doesn't really know either, & is just talking for the love of the sound of his own voice! Sutherland - please resign!

Posted by ygkd on (May 17, 2013, 0:00 GMT)

cont/ Why is that a problem? It is because success at a second sport makes you more "interesting" and this puts you in the selectors' thoughts as "an athlete". Which is fine if you're a potential AFL draft pick, but if you're of similar ability at a lesser known second sport without the professionalism of AFL, it will not necessarily help you as a young player making his way through a footy-dominated cricket culture. Few will know and few will think it matters if they do know. Cricket needs to state the need to put cricket first, in order to find the most resilient ones. If that is what is meant by identifying talent earlier, then I can understand. However, the devil shall be in the detail. If it means, in Victoria, just looking over the fence enviously at the footy squads, then it won't achieve anything. Finding out more about the young players in the system is fair enough, but the way to do that is with a more professional system for a number and not behavioural classes for a few.

Posted by ygkd on (May 16, 2013, 23:41 GMT)

Read an interesting but not entirely surprising piece this morning. Victoria has lost one of its two "wins" against AFL - Meyrick Buchanan to footy after all. Now, Buchanan hardly set the world alight. He is easiest remembered in short-form, which is hardly surprising as young blokes play so much of it. However, he was attempting to be something of a specialist, which for footy/cricketers is not all that common. This leaves Alex Keath, who has been described as a fielder who bats down the order, well down, and bowls fifth-change. Sometimes. He was virtually guaranteed an AFL spot, but will need a lot longer to make it in cricket. This time-frame has to be taken into account when bringing on youth and I do not believe the current set-up does that. Also, in Victoria there is a tendency to look to footy for lost athletes. Sure, it's the biggest competition in town, but other sports are largely off the radar.

Posted by David_Boon on (May 16, 2013, 8:52 GMT)

This whole fiasco is a joke. This is a cricket team, not a business. and you can't force a 'culture' by implementing rules. The only thing that matters is on-field results, and the very idea that Pat Howard is employed pretty much sums up the problem. Do you think an NFL team has a 'Team Performance Manager'? What about Manchester United? Or any other EPL team? Or the NBA? Sutherland himself should be shouldering the blame for establishing a 'culture' where the team runs itself as though it is a corporation and not a sports team. I'm sick of reading this kind of stuff, I wish they would just get back to playing cricket.

Posted by ygkd on (May 16, 2013, 8:04 GMT)

"We've tended to let the cream rise to the top in recent times, but perhaps we need to nurture those high potential players a little bit earlier, and develop their other character beyond their cricket abilities and prepare them for what's next." What I would like to know is exactly how the high potential will be recognised? In the footy TAC Cup in Victoria, things are fairly transparent. There is a lot going on out in the regions where it should. Cricket is too centralised. This may sound like a strange thing to say, but what happens if the right players aren't always coming through to the state setups? It's no good to say "We've identified the talent" and leave it at that. Not everyone develops at the same rate. Not every 15yo match-winner has a game for the future. Best not to make too much of things too early. Best too to not make too much of teens too early, or character faults can be magnified by the weight of a big head on young shoulders. It is simple. You reap what you sow.

Posted by Meety on (May 16, 2013, 3:27 GMT)

@Jono Makim - 7 x ODIs + 1 20/20. The old saying only a FOOL makes the same twice! This is 2nd time around!

Posted by bobagorof on (May 15, 2013, 23:35 GMT)

I'd like to see what Sutherland plans to do about the lack of communication that he admits contributed to this mess. What changes will be implemented to improve things?

I'd also like to see some evidence that the players hate playing under Clarke, as everyone is suggesting. Sure, he had a run-in with Katich years ago and there's bound to be some personality clashes within the dressing room, but to read some of the comments here (and on other articles) you'd think that there's an open revolt going on and Clarke better be a light sleeper. Which of the players feel this way, and where's your evidence? And are you suggesting that the professional players are deliberately underperforming as some form of sabotage? Or are you merely suggesting that Ponting's slack captaincy allowed a culture of mediocrity to thrive, and there's a backlash now that the players are being 'encouraged' to put in some hard work (and the captain's favourites have changed with the captain)?

Posted by   on (May 15, 2013, 23:34 GMT)

It is pretty obvious even from what he did say that Clarke has lost the players' ears.They either don't listen or don't respect him. If it got to the point on tour they had to suspend players to try sand get some degree of authority/ respect, well the captain- player relationship must be broken. It should be up to the Captain to lead and earn/demand respect off the field as well as on it. Great player but he is obviously NOT a leader, hence they feel the need to bring back Haddin ( " his experience will be invaluable among the team") when there are so many promising keepers in the country. As Clarke and the new age medicos lead this team to oblivion in the next Ashes series, who are they planning to bring back for the summer? Alan Border?

Posted by ygkd on (May 15, 2013, 22:22 GMT)

cont/ The best forum for allowing temperament to surface are two-day games. This, however, would require greater resources in the regional structures and a different direction. Currently, short-form is king. Cameos can sway selections too easily. All-rounders rule too much. Specialist skills like wrist-spin are hard to find. Yet, it is these specialist skills that Test cricket requires. The others will do well up to a certain level and then most will find it all too tough. There is little point wasting time in educating those in that category about their duty to the game or their team-mates. Focus, instead, on particular skills along with temperament and the results will come because those with the dedication to hone specialist skills along the way will also have the dedication to do the right thing when they arrive.

Posted by ygkd on (May 15, 2013, 22:07 GMT)

"We've been talking about nurturing our young, talented teenagers a little bit earlier than we have in the past. Some other sports do that very well and I'd like to see cricket doing a lot more of that in the next little while." Exactly. Have a look at the AFL system. There, a seventeen-year-old regional talent will get access to a quite professional, cashed-up set-up, with training and games and plenty of it, so that he may improve and prove his worth (or not). By comparison, a young cricketer at the same stage will get a few short-form hit-outs if he's lucky. There are not enough games, let alone longer-form ones, and this means selections can be too hit-and-miss and talent, such that is left after the AFL has had more than its share, can still be over-looked. Much has been said about cricket missing out in the southern states, but the time for talk has long gone. Changes are required for this spring/summer and one of the traits that should be given priority is temperament.

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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