A week is a long time in football, or so goes a popular Melbourne phrase. It has been a virtual eternity for Cricket Australia, from the blind bonhomie of David Peever's re-election as chairman on James Sutherland's final day in his chief executive job at the AGM last Thursday, to his reluctant resignation after being given the hard word by the New South Wales chairman John Knox on Thursday.
While Peever departs the game as the first chairman in CA's history to be ousted before he has served his full elected term, Knox has emerged as arguably the most powerful figure in Australian cricket right now. As the chief executive of Credit Suisse in Australia, he is of a high corporate standing, and as chairman of the nation's biggest cricket state, he has led the most significant pushback by CA's owners to a pattern of centralisation. Yet he has also been a key behind-the-scenes figure alongside Sutherland for at least six years.
Even amid the pre-arranged pageantry of Peever's re-election and a cheery joint final press conference with Sutherland, there was tension only a fraction beneath the surface. As the states reasoned with the bizarre reality of viewing the damning cultural review of CA a matter of minutes after Peever had been returned to the board for a further three years, Sutherland and the chairman went their separate ways more quickly than the board expected.
That night, a traditional post-AGM dinner would usually have seen Sutherland accompany the directors. But on his first evening out of the CEO's chair in 17 years Sutherland chose, pointedly, to brush the invitation and dine instead with the team performance manager Pat Howard. It was a move that Peever did not appreciate, but spoke volumes for what had been bubbling under the surface.
Peever and the Board had been pushing Sutherland towards the exit for some time, virtually from the moment that one of their own, Kevin Roberts, had resigned his directorship to join the CA executive in late 2015. Notwithstanding last year's pay dispute, led strategically by Peever and tactically by Roberts before Sutherland and Howard were called in to salvage a compromise or risk an abandoned Test tour to Bangladesh, gentle taps on the CEO's shoulder had become more like shoves by summer.
Initially, Peever suggested that Sutherland go after the home Ashes summer; at length, the agreed term was extended to mid-year given the delicate state of broadcast rights negotiations. This left Sutherland in the job at the time of the ball-tampering scandal, where he publicly carried the can for the governing body while another senior figure not long from the exit door, the head of integrity Iain Roy, conducted the code of conduct investigation that saw David Warner, Steven Smith and Cameron Bancroft all banned.
So Sutherland's departure, having successfully negotiated a A$1.18 billion broadcast rights deal with Fox Sports and the Seven Network, was now sullied by South Africa, with a looming review to be released. In giving 12 months' notice in June, Sutherland awaited the board's choice of his successor, leaving the likes of the former NSW chairman John Warn and the current CA Board director John Harnden to jostle with Roberts.
When the "global" search led CA's Board back to Roberts, not only an internal candidate but one of their own, numerous figures were miffed, not least Warn. It set down Sutherland's final day as October 25, the date long set in place for the AGM, which would take place amid two days of meetings with the state CEOs and chairmen and also the Australian Cricketers' Association. At the time Roberts' ascension was announced, the cultural review was set to be released on October 12, well before the AGM.
This is where things got complicated. The two principals of the CA and player components of the reviews, the Ethic Centre's director Dr Simon Longstaff and the former Test opening batsman Rick McCosker, wanted separate release days. However, the terms of reference set out in April had made it clear that the player review, while producing a separate charter for the Australian men's team, would have its wider findings incorporated into the Longstaff document.
Two distinct releases would have also maintained the idea that the team and CA were mutually exclusive entities, when the point of the review had been to do the opposite. As the terms of reference explicitly stated among its expected outcomes: "Build a strong alignment of mutual interests between CA and the Australian Men's Cricket Team to ensure the best outcomes for the game." A joint release date was essential.
Following some dismay - though nothing relative to what would come later - at the suggestion that only the review recommendations would be released publicly, Peever and the board decided that yes, they would allow the full document to be viewed by all. Further complication then came in the form of legal redactions of a document whose level of dissemination had not been made clear at the time it was commissioned. In the end, the final review, fit for public release, landed in the email inboxes of board directors last Tuesday, more than 48 hours before the AGM and the vote on Peever's future.
Fatefully, it was decided not to show the state chairmen and CEOs the document before state association owners voted on Peever. While numerous state association leaders would comment upon seeing the review that its contents were not a surprise to them, the knowledge that such a scathing document be kept from the owners before they made a decision that would be seen in the light of its public release was cause for head scratching that would only grow in coming days.
Knox did not attend the AGM, and was tellingly absent on the following Monday when the review was put out in public. Three state chairmen - Victoria's Paul Barker, South Australia's Andrew Sinclair and Queensland's Sal Vasta - were present to watch Peever say he accepted responsibility while in the same breath state he was the right man to take CA forward. Knox, though, had the vantage point of most Australians, via television. Under those harsh lights, Peever struggled badly, and would do worse when questioned relentlessly by the ABC's Leigh Sales on 7:30 that night - quite a contrast to her sympathetic two-part chat with Shane Warne the week before.
All this contributed to a wave of protests from respected names who had generally kept carefully silent over the 17 years in which Sutherland had been in charge. Malcolm Speed, Bob Merriman and Colin Carter, influential sporting elders and longtime supporters of Sutherland, voiced public concerns about CA's leadership, or at least the manner in which it had been decided without access to the cultural review. As Carter put it to the Age: "What I do think is completely astonishing is that decisions were made about the composition of the board for the next three years before any of the people who were voting had a chance to read the assessments that were made. From a governance point of view, I think that was not correct."
Peever had been taking advice from Tony Harrison, the Tasmanian Board director and communications professional who retired from his place on the Board on the same day the chairman was re-elected. But there was no message management that could save him from the crystallising view of Knox and the NSW Board that change was not just preferable but necessary.
Among the NSW directors were figures like Neil Maxwell, the player manager and businessman who is also on the ACA executive, and the former Australia women captain Alex Blackwell. On Tuesday evening at a regular board meeting they resolved to make change, though the public message that CNSW was "considering the review" spoke loudly enough in its absence of any vote of support for Peever. The Prime Minister's XI match played out in Canberra on Wednesday evening, with Peever and his fellow board directors remaining impassive to the concept of a change at the top until the following morning. Peever returned home to Brisbane, Knox made the critical call and, with some reluctance, Peever set about informing the board that he was resigning immediately. His letter read in part:
"I was advised by John Knox, chairman of Cricket NSW that my position as director on the CA Board no longer had his Board's support. I made a personal commitment when I accepted the chairmanship that I would only serve with the unanimous support of the states. Therefore, I tender my resignation from the Board, effective immediately."
Other states, most notably Peever's own of Queensland, were planning to rush to his public aid. Sal Vasta, the Queensland chairman, was planning to send out a release stating his support when Peever called to say he was going. "I feel sad - he is a very strong administrator,'' Vasta told News Corp. "He rang me after he had resigned because I'm sure he knew if had rung earlier I would have tried to talk him out of it." The next meeting of state chairmen will make for some animated discussion.
Intriguingly, two of Knox's longest cricket relationships are with Sutherland, as a fellow Melbourne University student and player for the cricket club in the 1990s, and Warn, who served as NSW chairman with Knox as a director from February 2013 until earlier this year. Sutherland and Knox have worked closely together on each of the past two TV rights deals for cricket - the CA CEO was literally in Credit Suisse's Sydney office in 2013 when informed about the "homeworkgate" suspensions in India that year - while Knox was also part of the unsuccessful but carefully managed float of Big Bash League teams to private investment in 2011, when Sutherland and CA management were as opposed to the idea as the then board or state-appointed delegates were in favour.
This is all to say that Sutherland, ushered towards the CA exit, and Warn, unsuccessful in convincing Peever he should replace him, have shared plenty of conversations about cricket and its direction with Knox. One of the ironies of Thursday's call by Knox to Peever to tell him the game was up is that neither man is comfortable in the public spotlight. Knox, in fact, is yet to do a single interview as NSW chairman. But his firmly formed view that CA needed a new chairman was based on plenty of knowledge, and relationships beyond those that Peever, for all his corporate and Canberra experience, could summon.
So Australian cricket now sits at a juncture where the largest cricket state has pulled rank on the central governing body, leaving a new CEO to work without the chairman who sponsored him. The team performance manager, a likely target of many of the more scathing passage of the cultural review, is seeing out what's left of his contract, the states are far from united, and the ACA is calling for Smith, Warner and Bancroft to be reinstated. It really has been a long week.