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James Sutherland resigns as Cricket Australia chief executive

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Had been thinking about it for a long time - Sutherland (1:37)

James Sutherland and CA chairman David Peever talk about the board's future course of action (1:37)

An era ended as James Sutherland joined the growing line of departures from Cricket Australia in the wake of the Newlands ball-tampering scandal, though he insisted that his managed exit after 17 years was the result of more than 24 months of careful discussion with the chairman David Peever.

Sutherland served as chief executive since 2001 and oversaw a period of great growth but also turmoil. Most recently, the South Africa tour shone a poor light on the national team and the organisation. However, the game's financial growth during his time was enormous. Some of the major changes included the formation of the Big Bash League in 2011, the start of day-night Test cricket in 2015, and major increases in broadcast rights deals in 2013 and this year.

It was a measure of Sutherland's eventful tenure that he sat alongside Peever, who is the sixth he has served alongside, after Denis Rogers, Bob Merriman, Creagh O'Connor, Jack Clarke and Wally Edwards. On the same day Sutherland revealed his intention to depart, Peever confirmed he had the CA Board's backing to continue for another three years.

As such, Peever is looking increasingly like the lone survivor of Newlands and its aftermath, which has so far included bans for the captain Steven Smith, deputy David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, the resignation of the coach Darren Lehmann, the hurried removal of the head of integrity - and Cape Town investigator - Iain Roy and now the end of Sutherland's long stint at the helm. At the same time the former board director Kevin Roberts has been promoted to chief operating officer, a role Sutherland had previously declined to furnish. That places Roberts in the vanguard of a candidate list that may also include the former NSW chairman John Warn, the state's chief executive and former CA strategist Andrew Jones, and the recently appointed game development chief Belinda Clark.

It is believed that the CA Board had wanted Sutherland to outline an exit strategy for quite some time. Peever, who reckoned there would be a "slight bias" towards candidates who are both Australian and insiders to cricket, explained that he and Sutherland had discussed the CEO's future for almost the entirety of his time since becoming chairman in 2015, with the recent Ashes summer considered an appropriate end point. However, they subsequently agreed he should stay on to see through the completion of a new, A$1.18 billion television rights deal - Newlands took place in between.

"When James and I were getting clearer about timing we talked about the end of the successful men's and women's Ashes summer as a good juncture," Peever said in Melbourne. "But then we talked more about it and said we really need to complete the media rights process. There is no good time, there is always something going on in cricket, and so we decided then that after media rights were completed that James would announce.

"Clearly, the ball-tampering issue has created upheaval, we've got the review process going on. I think it has also helped us understand better the extraordinary passion that Australians have for cricket and the importance of us as administrators to make sure we're tapping back into that passion and respecting that passion, and indeed our strategy goes very strongly back to fans and grassroots.

"The board has asked me to do another term [as chairman] and I've agreed to do that. I think at times like this continuity is important, so we have transition to a new CEO, we have leadership changes in the Australia men's set-up, we have a massive summer coming up which we're all excited about, we have a World Cup and Ashes next year, we've got a World T20 in 2020, we've got new financial models, we've got new broadcasters, so on the basis of all those things going on, with James transitioning out, I've agreed to do another term."

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4:24

Brettig: Sutherland will be remembered for the way he handled controversies

Daniel Brettig reacts to James Sutherland's resignation, and casts an eye on his potential successors as Cricket Australia's chief executive

Having joined CA as a lieutenant of Malcolm Speed, Sutherland was only 35 when named chief executive in 2001. He oversaw a period featuring issues such as Shane Warne's 2003 drugs ban, the decline of the national team from 2007 until the Don Argus-led review of team performance in 2011, the dramatic sacking of the coach Mickey Arthur and replacement by Darren Lehmann in 2013, the death of Phillip Hughes in 2014 and the "Big Three" takeover of the ICC in the same year, and then last's year's hot-tempered MoU dispute, a process he was kept out of by Peever before ultimately intervening late in the piece.

Yet, at the same time, there were major advancements. The advent of the Big Bash League and day-night Test cricket were significant on-field innovations, women's cricket grew from amateurism to full professionalism over his time, and the size of the Australian game grew exponentially in financial terms through burgeoning successive television rights deals. This mixture of drama and growth was never better summed up than by the latest broadcast rights deal with Fox Sports and Seven being signed a matter of weeks after the disgrace of Newlands. Sutherland may have hoped to stay on until hosting the World Twenty20 in 2020, but he will now leave around the same time that Smith and Warner return to the playing arena.

"My view has always been I'd like to go out on my terms, but at the same time I want to go out in such a way that allows the game to make a smooth transition," Sutherland said. "I think that having been in the role for 17 years there are things I've come to know along the way that it was only appropriate for me to work closely with my successor but at the same time I'll be keen to get out of their way as quickly as possible as well.

"Our business works on a four, five, six year cycle and it just so happens that right now, putting aside the fact I've been in the role for 17 years, we've adopted a new strategy, we have the collective agreement with our players in place we've just done a new media rights deal that puts us in a really strong position about certainty of revenue for this next cycle, as well as the ICC piece, it just feels that with all those things done it's a really good time for me to step aside but also a really good time for a new chief executive to come in and have a good run at it."

Speaking about Roberts' recent elevation, Sutherland said it had been a matter of ascribing the former Adidas retail executive a title befitting the role he had increasingly come to play. "From my perspective and internally people would know and understand that over the last 12 months or so at least Kevin's had a very broad role and has been effectively my deputy and CEO," he said. "So from that perspective I think it's really turning what was a convoluted title into a COO and allows that clarity about his role."

Always reluctant to talk about himself, Sutherland parried away a question about personal highlights and lowlights by outlining what he had always thought was the most important element of his role - ensuring as many children played the game as possible, to show them its virtues but also to grow the size of the game.

"My underlying belief about the most important thing we do as sports administrators is inspire the next generation to love cricket," Sutherland said. "Boys and girls, it's all about that and whilst that doesn't necessarily get the publicity that it deserves, the facts of the matter are that if kids today are not getting bats and balls in their hands, not seeing and understanding the opportunity that is there from playing cricket, then the game doesn't have a future. That has been the underlying driver for me in this role, all the way through.

"It's about the kids and about making sure the game has a sustainable future through the next generation. In a specific sense the Big Bash is part and parcel in that, something that's come into play to bring new people to the game, it's a great success story for Australian cricket, but it's one piece of the jigsaw that also includes the opportunity and the access to the game that boys and girls around the country need, and the support that states and territories play in providing that is incredibly important."

The importance of providing access to the game for as many children as possible has been a consistent theme of Sutherland's years in charge, but his departure has followed the first instance in Australian cricket history of placing a portion of home international cricket behind a television paywall. Just as compromise and contradiction has been required to retain the role for this many years, so too has it applied to the way Sutherland's time will be remembered.

"We've had some big things to deal with over the course of the last 12 months," Sutherland said. "Obviously there's Cape Town but there's also some key planks now in place that allow me to step aside and for a new chief executive to come in and have a really strong platform."