Departing Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland has revealed his regret that the Newlands ball tampering scandal may not have played out so disastrously, resulting in bans for Steven Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, had he been able to intervene earlier in the affair.
Sutherland famously turned off the TV in his Melbourne home before the broadcast showed evidence that Bancroft had used a foreign object to try to change the ball's condition, later revealed to be sandpaper. This meant he was unaware of the various attempts by Bancroft, Smith and the team to cover up the truth of the matter, culminating in a press conference where the captain and opening batsman had lied about the object used - claiming it was tape rather than sandpaper - and about who was involved - Smith stating the "leadership group" rather than the vice-captain Warner. All were subsequently banned via the CA code of conduct.
Speaking on the final day of his eventful and influential 17-year tenure as chief executive of CA, Sutherland said he had pondered how differently things might have played out had he been able to influence proceedings earlier. It was not until about 3am the following morning, after the press conference had taken place, that Sutherland was spoken to about events in South Africa. In this the episode echoed others where Sutherland was unable to be directly involved, including the 2013 suspensions of four players for not doing "homework" for then coach Mickey Arthur in India, an event that led to his replacement by Darren Lehmann.
"At a guess it would've been about midnight I suppose [that I turned the TV off] but, yeah, I wish I was watching, absolutely. It was a serious WTF moment there," Sutherland told ESPNcricinfo. "I'd like to think that my judgment and possibly influence would have meant that the media conference would have gone slightly differently.
"As we know, that was part of the penalty and the severity of the penalty, was to some extent related or at least was consequential in terms of how that was handled - not telling the truth, or not telling the whole truth.
"No doubt that homework thing, if I'd been anywhere near that, it would have been a different outcome. I'd like to think in some cases where things have gone awry that that's true. You can't be everywhere."
"There were lots of other things going on, and some disgraceful behaviour during the Port Elizabeth Test, provocation by opposition fans but also administrators from the opposition team" James Sutherland on the build-up to Newlands
Questions have been raised about how the spirit of cricket has appeared to recede from prominence in CA's most recent strategy, which speaks instead of "smashing the boundaries" and other corporate-speak. Sutherland, who personally led a concerted effort to make the spirit of cricket a more prominent element of the game early in his tenure in 2003, said that the fact that his earlier warnings to the captain Smith and the coach Lehmann about the team's conduct had gone unheeded was part of why he was left "heartbroken" by what transpired in Cape Town.
"I was heartbroken by the events that happened and I think that in some ways I totally understand that in the heat of battle things can boil over and go awry and there can be regrettable incidents," Sutherland said. "[But] I think in some ways the issues of Cape Town were a different thing altogether, it wasn't necessarily a confrontation between two players, that was a premeditated WTF moment that shocked us all. Part of the extent of my disappointment around Cape Town is heightened by what happened earlier in the series, and my feeling that there were warning signals.
"There were lots of other things going on, and some disgraceful behaviour during the Port Elizabeth Test, provocation by opposition fans but also administrators from the opposition team. But still, if you go back to Durban, my views were expressed during and after the Durban Test match that we needed to take stock and be very aware that when you're playing South Africa, you're playing in a cauldron and we've got two teams that go very hard at each other.
"Our leadership needs to show restraint and understand that it's not the first time that things have boiled over on the field between CA and South Africa and it won't be the last time. But it's happened before, particularly on those tours at the end of a long season and to some extent it was predictable. But my view was that, putting everything aside from Durban it was time to understand and settle back in to playing good, hard cricket."
The CA chairman David Peever has said that the wording of CA's current strategy document was likely to be revised to return the spirit of cricket to a more prominent place in the governing body's thinking, and Sutherland said that while the 2003 campaign was aimed at placing the spirit of the game in public view, he had long been at pains to reinforce its importance to leaders of the national team.
"It's always been prominent, but there was a very conscious shift back then in the 2000s to ensure that there's a greater awareness around that, and various measures that came into play," Sutherland said. "That was quite public, but it's not in any way to say there's been a loss of focus around that, it was public then, a conscious shift to make it public and create awareness around that.
"I've had countless discussions with captains and coaches along the way to remind them that it is enshrined in the laws of the game through the preamble about the spirit of cricket. The responsibilities of players led particularly by captains for the respect that teams show to umpires, their opponents and everyone else in the game. I've always felt very strongly about that and I've always certainly dedicated my attention when I've felt it was needed to the captain and remind them of their responsibilities, as I did after the Durban Test match."
The exit of Sutherland has taken place at a time when CA has never been richer or larger as an organisation, but with plenty of thinking to do about how it carries on to restore public trust after Newlands while also rebuilding the performance of the national team, now led at Test level by Tim Paine and coached by Justin Langer. Sutherland is adamant that the game, while shaken, will be better for the events of Newlands.
"I think that the good thing about the public response to Cape Town is it's a reminder to everyone as to how important cricket is, what cricket means to the Australian public and the pedestal on which the Australian cricket team is held and the expectations that come with being an Australian cricketer," he said. "I think our players, Cricket Australia and everyone in Australian cricket is reminded of that and I think it is a huge compliment to cricket and a really stark reminder to everyone.
"I said from the outset the game will be better for this, it already is, it is not just in Australia but around the world through various things at ICC and other countries that people are picking up and responding to. But also within our own organisation and within our team, players are committed to seeing Australians being proud of the Australian cricket team and the players and how they carry themselves on and off the field."
Read James Sutherland's full interview with ESPNcricinfo next week