One of Melbourne Grand Prix chairman John Harnden or the former Cricket New South Wales chairman John Warn may be named as the new chief executive of Cricket Australia as soon as next week after the race to succeed the longtime boss James Sutherland narrowed to the final preferred candidate stage.
ESPNcricinfo understands that two other remaining candidates, one of them the current Cricket Australia chief operating officer Kevin Roberts, were informed they had fallen out of the running at the start of the week, with final presentations by Harnden - also a CA Board director - and Warn believed to have been made on Tuesday.
Another senior figure who is thought to have featured in leadership discussions is the former Australian women's team captain and head of game development Belinda Clark, who is highly regarded within CA and may well be in line to replace Harnden or Warn after their tenure, which is not expected to come close to the 17 years clocked up by Sutherland.
Roberts, who had appeared a likely successor for Sutherland from the moment he left the CA Board to join the executive management team in late 2015, raised the ire of the Australian Cricketers Association last year for the way he managed pay negotiations with the players' union, resulting in a standoff where players went unpaid for almost a month and an Australia A tour of South Africa was cancelled. He was ultimately sidelined from talks that were to be concluded by Sutherland and the team performance manager Pat Howard.
However, Roberts is thought to have retained the backing of the chairman David Peever to replace Sutherland until late in the process. Succession planning was one of numerous issues raised by the former Board director Bob Every when he quit CA in protest at Peever being given in-principle approval to continue as chairman for another three years. This decision remains to be ratified by the states at the CA annual general meeting on October 25.
When Sutherland replaced Malcolm Speed in 2001, he was only 35 years old and younger than the then Australian team captain Steven Waugh. By contrast Harnden (53, the same age as Sutherland) and Warn (45) are considerably more seasoned. However, CA's current battle to regain public confidence, bed-down a new $1.18 billion broadcast deal with News Corp and Seven and also make ready for hosting the two separate women's and men's world Twenty20 tournaments in 2020 suggests an intensive commission for Sutherland's successor.
Other major issues for CA include efforts to contextualise international cricket via the ICC, with Test and ODI championships due to begin in 2019, and the juggling of the Big Bash League amid an increasingly clogged rota of domestic T20 tournaments, many of which offer considerably greater financial incentives. Equally, the game is in a constant battle for participants and spectators with other Australian sports, as evidenced by the game's slip to seventh, below basketball, for participation numbers according to Sport Australia's annual figures.
Harnden, who is Melbourne-based, has been considered the most likely candidate for some time, given the breadth of his experience as a former chief executive of the Australian Grand Prix, the South Australian Cricket Association, the Melbourne Commonwealth Games and the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup before replacing Ron Walker as the Melbourne Grand Prix chairman. In particular his record of running major events would be an advantage ahead of 2020, while his work with a variety of state and federal governments provides an indicator of the political skills required at ICC level.
Nevertheless, Harnden has also sat on the CA Board since 2016, in that time being a part of flawed decision-making around the MoU. The appointment of an internal candidate, at a time when CA is itself subject to a broad cultural review by the Ethics Centre following the Newlands ball-tampering scandal, would also be a matter for conjecture.
Warn, based in Sydney, stepped down from his roles as NSW chairman and also a senior executive at Westfield earlier this year to spend more time with his family, and would need to move south to take up the role heading CA's operations at their Jolimont headquarters. Known as a highly combative club cricketer for Manly-Warringah in Sydney grade competition, Warn's corporate career in retail has dovetailed with directorships at Cricket NSW and also the NSW Waratahs rugby union team.
He and the NSW chief executive Andrew Jones were widely credited with improving the structure and performance of Australian cricket's largest state association. However, Warn also presided over a recent downturn in the results of the men's state team and the failure of its younger generation to develop after the fashion of the likes of Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, which saw the coach Trent Johnston replaced by Phil Jaques over the off-season.
Others mentioned as potential candidates included the WACA chief executive Christina Matthews, Jones, NRL CEO Todd Greenberg and Football Federation Australia CEO David Gallop. At the time that Sutherland announced his impending resignation in June, Peever stated that candidates with a significant knowledge of or background in cricket would likely be favoured.
"This is an incredibly complex job, it has many dimensions," Peever said. "What we must do is find the best person for the role. While I don't want to put any constraints around it, it is a Cricket Australia role, so we're probably going to have a little bit of bias towards an Australian, and it is a role in cricket, so we'll probably have a bias towards someone in cricket."