To the ring of applause from his Cricket Australia underlings, the new chief executive Kevin Roberts insisted he was the right man to drive culture and reputation change for the governing body. He did so despite his intimate role in its long road towards the dual infamies of the 2017 players pay dispute and the 2018 Newlands ball-tampering scandal.
Flanked by the CA chairman David Peever, who joined the board on the same day in 2012 and has been Roberts' close ally and leadership sponsor throughout, the 46-year-old former first-class batsman, then-apparel executive for Canterbury, Adidas, Colorado and 2XU, declared his intent to repair relationships and rebuild trust with the Australian community. He will need to do so while remaining closely linked to the episodes that caused those bonds and trust to be eroded in the first place.
Notwithstanding the succession jockeying that ensued after James Sutherland announced his intention to resign in June, throwing up candidates such as John Harnden, John Warn and Christina Matthews, Roberts' succession had seemed ordained almost from the moment he left the CA Board to become a part of Sutherland's executive team in late 2015. Peever duly cited internal experience as the major reason to choose Roberts, who led CA's side of last year's fractious pay dispute with the Australian Cricketers Association.
"I did absolutely play a key role in those negotiations and our strategy was endorsed by CA and the state and territory associations, we were all in it together," Roberts said. "But we do have a lot to reflect on and learn from, as we have. There's no doubt it was a challenging situation, but we move forward, we learn and we make commitments as to how we grow the game and how we grow those partnerships into the future.
"We obviously can't change history, what we can do is work very closely with the ACA on a sustained basis over many years. To make sure the relationship with the ACA and the players is not defined by negotiations that happen over a few months every five years or so, but the relationship is defined by how we work together, to develop national teams, to support our players and to help them develop as athletes, as competitors and as people. The key learning is the importance of the relationship being defined by how we work together over a sustained period, rather than having this pressure cooker type build up to a five-yearly negotiation.
"So we've got over three and a half year until the next MoU needs to be negotiated and our commitment is to build a stronger relationship in that period. That's the greatest learning to come out of it, to have that foundation. There will be bumps in the road for cricket along the way, no question, we're all human and we'll experience some challenges along the way, but when we work on really sincerely and genuinely building that relationship with the ACA, and continuing to strengthen our relationship with players, cricket will be in a far better space when it comes time to contemplate the next MoU down the track."
Roberts' appointment was met with a cautious response from the ACA president Greg Dyer. "This is a critical time for Australian cricket," he said. "The cricket public need to reconnect with the game and this will begin with CA being open, fair and transparent in order to regain their trust. The on and off-field events of the past 18 months have created an expectation that a number of things will need to change.
"The findings and recommendations of CA's Longstaff and McCosker reviews will hopefully identify the changes that need to occur. Just as the players have been held accountable, we also expect that CA will be fully accountable in taking the difficult steps required to restore the reputation of the game."
The wider cultural review of CA, prepared by the corporate ethics expert Simon Longstaff, was handed to the board in recent weeks, meaning its contents were able to be viewed before a final decision was reached. Peever declined to comment on its content, but said that implementing review's recommendations would be a critical early task for Roberts, whether it was strengthening the link between CA and the national teams or building a more open and constructive relationship with the ACA.
"We recognise it is likely as we work through what needs to happen with the information that comes out of the review, that someone with strong experience both in leadership and in leading cultural change will be a very important leader in the organisation," Peever said. "So Kevin's credentials in that respect helped the Board have very strong conviction about his appointment.
"There's no doubt when you look at the [MoU] process, we can all learn from that. But that said, the outcome for cricket has been a good outcome, and just let me reiterate we have professionalised the women, our men are the best-paid sportsmen in the country, and with the agreement of the ACA we have been able to now stream off some of the above expected revenues into grassroots. Those conversations are going on now. I refer to the foundation that has been set, and that's a very important part of that foundation."
In his corporate career, Roberts had some intriguing moments. He was still with Adidas when the company cut ties with CA as sponsor and supplier in 2011, leading to a deal with Asics. More recently, Roberts departed his role at 2XU to join CA in a fractious year for the sportswear brand, involving the collapse of its biggest US customer The Sports Authority. One of 2XU's biggest shareholders is Tanarra Capital, whose principal happens to be the Sport Australia chairman, John Wylie.
Among other issues for Roberts to tackle is the improvement of relationships between CA and its sponsors and broadcast partners. In the latter category, at least, there are fresh starts to be had with Seven and Fox Sports, both of which have bet big on cricket's reputation not being so damaged as to affect their chances of leveraging off a $1.18 billion broadcasting deal to draw eyeballs to their free-to-air, pay television and digital platforms.
"I think the challenge is to unite the cricket community and build trust and respect from the level that it's at now, and we've got a great opportunity to do that," Roberts said. "We've got such a rich tapestry as a cricket community across the nation, and part of that rich tapestry is the diversity of views, the diversity of needs, the diversity of communities. It's a great opportunity to unite Australian cricket across all of that diversity, but that is a challenge and a compelling challenge.
"A saying that's very relevant to sport is things are rarely as good or as bad as they seem. That's very true coming out of the Cape Town incident, which was let's be honest a low point for our sport. But things are most certainly not as bad as they seem to some right now, and we push forward with optimism. Cricket is a game that embraces optimism, it's all about optimism and I'm sure the cricket community feels the same way. So I'd characterise cricket's relationship with its communities around the country as good, and we aspire to be great.
"We won't be perfect, but I absolutely promise that we'll be genuine in our intentions to build respect, build trust, and we'll try to bring fans and players closer together. Our players in the national men's and women's teams are outstanding young Australians, and we want to help other Australians understand more about those male and female players, just what great people they are, and at the same time help our players empathise with fans and what they're experiencing in the game. It's really all about bringing those two groups together."
Standing at the back of the room was Sutherland, who will formally exit his role at the CA AGM on October 25, more than 17 years after he was appointed in June 2001. "I am confident Kevin is ready to lead Australian cricket through the sport's next stage of growth," he said. "He has been a key member of our executive team over recent years and provided terrific support to me in my role. I congratulate him on his appointment and wish him the very best."