James Sutherland's successor at Cricket Australia will face a "hell of a job" to maintain the governing body's international relationships, according to the former chairman Bob Merriman, who also said the current heir apparent Kevin Roberts should spend as much time as possible with the outgoing boss to learn more of his pragmatic ways.
In assessing Sutherland's 17-year tenure, both his predecessor Malcolm Speed and Merriman touched on common themes of an era beginning in 2001, which led to an exponential growth of the business. CA took the game to new audiences through its promotion of the Big Bash League and women's cricket and formed a strong relationship with BCCI, feeding off its financial might.
Merriman, who was on the panel to select Sutherland as CEO and became his first long-term leadership partner from 2001 to 2005, said that the outgoing chief executive's high standard over a long period was underlined by the way he had juggled domestic and international responsibilities, alongside the tension between the game's traditions and its search for growth. He described Sutherland's exit as a "great loss for cricket".
"I think the person who succeeds him is going to have a hell of a job, because the standard that James has set is so high and the achievements have been so great," Merriman told ESPNcricinfo. "Sure, everything appears to be in place for somebody to come in and manage it, given that all the media arrangements are in place for six years, there's future programming in place, there's good staff in place and guaranteed revenue. But it's going to be a real challenge for the next person to maintain that level of excellence that James has been able to achieve in ticking all the boxes that he has.
"Particularly with the growing of his staff - there's been some turnover in his staff - the people he's got there now growing will be very important in the support of a new person coming in as chief executive. In my view it's going to be a very difficult job to find somebody, if you use the expression David Peever used that he's the best CEO in the cricket world, so it's going to be a bit hard to top him.
"One would think [Roberts] has got to be under consideration, and I think he's got a good period to learn as much as he can in the 10-12 months, however long James stays on. He's got a very good opportunity to learn a hell of a lot from a guy who is very good. Kevin's got a lot of experience himself, but here's an opportunity to work with a very successful person."
Speed, describing Sutherland as "very commercial, methodical, rational, thoughtful and consistent", noted that one of his strengths had been an ability to work alongside a diverse array of chairmen - Denis Rogers, Merriman, Creagh O'Connor, Jack Clarke, Wally Edwards and David Peever - captains - Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Steven Smith and Tim Paine - and coaches - John Buchanan, Tim Nielsen, Mickey Arthur, Darren Lehmann and Justin Langer.
"Put these 16 men into a room and you will see an extremely powerful, talented and influential group. They would be a hard group to manage and they would rarely agree on anything. James has been the constant," Speed said. "He has been the glue that has held them together and perhaps that has been his most important role.
"He has been able to work with each of them and has provided the continuity and consistency that has enabled CA to stay on track and become a genuine sporting powerhouse. Over time, he has quietly imposed himself on the organisation and worked with other key people to bring about change. To look at it another way, he has enabled them to make their contributions and work in a collegiate and respectful way."
Two areas in which Speed said he had been critical of Sutherland at times were crisis management and the way he had initially dealt with other ICC member countries. But he felt that in both cases there had been improvement with a preference for dealing genuinely with issues rather than worrying chiefly about how he was perceived in public.
"As a new CEO, I thought James struggled with crisis management," Speed said. "Cricket in Australia will have its fair share of crises and James had plenty early in his tenure. Not the least of these was the bizarre circumstances facing Shane Warne at the 2003 World Cup in South Africa where he was sent home facing doping charges before he had bowled a ball.
Had been thinking about it for a long time - Sutherland
James Sutherland and CA chairman David Peever talk about the board's future course of action
"James did not seek the limelight in dealing with the many issues he faced. Likewise, he did not shirk the issue when he was called upon to face the media. He was always authentic and straightforward and did not seek to prevaricate or obfuscate and he should be given credit for this. Authenticity is the sports administrator's most important characteristic and James was always the real deal.
"The recent ball-tampering scandal is a case in point. With hindsight, I am sure James would have preferred to have spoken to Steve Smith before he made media comment. Time zones were against him and he was keen to be seen to be on top of the issue. Ultimately, the correct outcomes were achieved. Do we judge a sports administrator on how well he appears in the media or on the decisions that are made in resolving difficult issues?"
As for last year's fraught MOU dispute, in which Sutherland initially declined to intervene but ultimately brought about an agreement with the Australian Cricketers Association after Roberts was sidelined as chief negotiator for CA, Speed said that it was incumbent on any chief executive to empower his staff to tackle issues and only jump in when necessary.
"James has been criticised for delaying his entry to the recent Collective Bargaining process with the players. I see it differently," Speed said. "James empowered others to negotiate the deal and that did not work. As soon as he was involved in the deal, consensus was achieved. The CEO is not required to manage each and every aspect of the business but he or she needs to know when they are needed to support those who they empower to perform important roles."
One of Sutherland's early battles was the seeking out of a new major sponsor for CA at short notice when Ansett collapsed in September 2001. Merriman recalled that the fact he, David Fouvy and Anthony Everard were able to not only secure a new sponsor within a month but also gain more favourable terms than the previous deal, had greatly increased the Board's trust in their then 35-year-old chief executive.
"I remember when we lost Ansett as a chief sponsor, within a month he got a better deal [with Hutchinson Telecom, worth A$1.5 million more than the previous A$25 million deal with Ansett]. In any sport that is a very significant loss. That part of his operation was not generally acknowledged, but the fact he was able to recover when we lose a major sponsor on the eve of the season like we did in September 2001, and then within a month we've got not only a major sponsor but an improved deal. He was able to do that all through my time."