Sutherland breaks silence on homework fiasco
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