It's often said, in circles both corporate and sporting, that the findings of a review are seldom as important as the process by which they are reached. Should the process of the review or the credibility of the reviewer be open to question, then the document itself falls over. The Cricket Australia cultural review presently rattling around the country and opening many questions about the governing body's leadership is as much a product of this truism as it is of the era it seeks to understand.
Seven months ago, at the time the joint reviews of CA were commissioned, plenty of questions were immediately raised about process and credibility - in marked contrast to the two previous reviews, of team performance by the Don Argus panel and of governance by Colin Carter and David Crawford, that were themselves subject to the spotlight of this year's inquiry. This may have been due to the enormity of events in Cape Town, or perhaps a more cynical public view of CA than existed in 2011 when the earlier reviews were conducted. Either way, they were not put together in a vacuum.
Cursory glances of the website of the Ethics Centre, commissioned to conduct the wider organisational review of CA, showed that the two organisations shared a Board director in common, Michelle Tredenick. And only a handful of background checks were required to discover that Peter Collins, facilitator of the Australian men's team review to be led by the former Test opening batsman Rick McCosker, had been a paid leadership consultant of CA for years.
Add to the mix the fact that the Ethics Centre's previous dalliance with elite sport in Australia, a 2017 review of the culture of the Australian Olympic Committee, had been widely seen as an exercise all too favourable to its president John Coates, and there was a healthy level of skepticism about what its director, Dr Simon Longstaff, might be compiling. Questions, too, were raised about the fact that the reviews, under the guise of "complete independence", did not feature any panelists or interviewers with a background in cricket administration - something the Argus review, for all its faults, most certainly did.
So just as CA was under enormous pressure to respond swiftly and fully to the fiasco of Cape Town in March this year, so too were Longstaff, McCosker and Collins duty-bound to produce findings that looked unstintingly at cricket's governing body. In the febrile environment of April, when CA's broadcast rights team, executive and Board tried to secure new television and digital deals while losing sponsors left and right, the phrase "honest and unmerciful" sprang readily to mind.
By the time interviews commenced, on May 28, the new deals with Fox Sports and Seven had been sewn up, and the national team had a new coach in Justin Langer. Even so, that earlier heat was to be evident in the way the reviews were pieced together, while cynicism about their conception was written all over the remarkably low response rate of current players to the reviews - some 24% as opposed to the 94% response rate from the CA Board itself. Presumably the missing 6% belonged to Bob Every, among whose many reasons for resigning as a Board director was the choice of the Ethics Centre to conduct the review.
What is now clear about the organisational review in particular is that by the time interim updates began rolling in, as required by the terms of reference set out by CA, they quickly demonstrated that this would be, by the governing body's own euphemistic terms, "challenging" and "confronting". While the chief executive James Sutherland made his decision to quit after 17 years and give 12 months' notice without any advance sighter of the review, his precise departure date would have been clarified by what CA would be dealing with in terms of its rollout. Similarly, the team performance chief Pat Howard's intentions not to seek a contract renewal began to filter into wider circles the closer its release date crept.
Of most contention was the fact that the CA AGM, and the re-election of the chairman David Peever, would take place without the review being shared with anyone beyond the Board itself. Had there been any urgency about doing so, whether initiated by the Board or insisted upon by the state associations' owners, then at the very least it would have been possible for sharing to take place in the 48 hours between its Tuesday, October 23 delivery and the Thursday, October 25 AGM. In the aftermath of the review's release, and Peever's wooden attempts to explain its findings, there lurked the strong sense of a chapter being closed. CA's directors, largely present for the release press conference, seem intent on sailing on to summer without looking back any further.
But that would be to reckon without the many findings and statements of the review itself, which will be harder to sidestep than any press conference question. The central thesis, that in becoming more corporate and corporately ruthless CA did not counterbalance the new approach with recognition of cricket's status as much more than a dollars-and-cents operation, is sound. Particular focus on the Argus and Carter/Crawford reviews does not hammer their authors, but rather their implementation.
"To better understand the broader ecosystem which may have contributed to the circumstances in South Africa, CA may find it useful to reflect on the impact of these two reports in shaping its culture since 2011," the review states. "The sense of urgency that was generated around the need for the Australian men's team to perform and the univocal equivalence of performance with winning constituted a new business model that inadvertently formed a culture to support it.
"CA is a not-for-profit organisation. However, the effect of both reports served to graft on a corporate model designed exclusively to generate a profit for the sport's 'shareholders' (the States) that was positioned as critical for the very survival of the sport in Australia. The combined effect of these reports was to create the conditions for much of the success enjoyed by CA to date - success that is widely and freely acknowledged by cricket's stakeholders. What CA failed to address adequately was the need for a 'balancing narrative' to offset some of the potentially corrosive effects of an unmediated corporate model."
The central thesis, that in becoming more corporate and corporately ruthless CA did not counterbalance the new approach with recognition of cricket's status as much more than a dollars-and-cents operation, is sound. Particular focus on the Argus and Carter/Crawford reviews does not hammer their authors, but rather their implementation.
This unmediated model has brought plenty of successes, whether in dollar figures, spectator and participation numbers, the creation of new revenue streams via the Big Bash League, or new growth areas for the game in terms of better targeting female followers or Australia's increasingly diverse population. Yet the soul of the thing has been lost somewhere along the way, as the organisation itself has grown well and truly beyond the dimensions first experienced by Sutherland and his then chairman Denis Rogers when he began as CEO in 2001. Where ends have justified means in a sport where the "spirit of cricket" was meant to be held sacred.
"Good intentions and positive outcomes are not enough to meet the exacting expectations of cricket's stakeholders," the review states. "As CA recognised, when framing the Terms of Reference for this Review, Australians want to be proud of the national game and the means by which it has achieved success. The 'cultural assets' of cricket - so wonderfully captured in stories, images and artefacts at the cricket museum at the MCG - are one of the sport's greatest strengths and potential weaknesses.
"By virtue of its history, cricket inspires (and in some sense trades on) high expectations. However, this elevated position increases the potential harm caused by any falling short. So, the strong endorsement of CA's commitment to diversity and inclusion is matched by disappointment that more progress has not been made in matching rhetoric to reality.
"Likewise, admiration of the results achieved by CA is undermined by criticism of the way those results have been achieved. Here it is worth noting that the most recent MOU negotiations with the ACA are viewed not just as a test of industrial strength or commitment. It was also seen as an opportunity for both sides to put their ethics into practice for the good of the game."
Ethics, however, had long since been left behind. Sutherland, an honourable if not always publicly polished operator, had for some years been managing an increasingly large and capricious collection of executives, many of whom had designs on his job. Equally, the Board, no longer composed of state delegates from the six associations, was comprised instead of a collection of corporate figures of varying levels of accomplishment, supposedly balanced by the former international players Mark Taylor and Michael Kasprowicz. While cricket had adopted a structure akin to that of the AFL Commission, they had not followed up by choosing people to match the structure. And with weakness at the strategic top, assumptions were made - one of them catastrophic.
"CA seems to have simply assumed that the core values and principles of cricket would generate the ethical restraint needed to offset the focus on competition - and that this self-correcting aspect of the game would apply automatically and without the investment of any special effort or skill," the review states. "This was CA's fundamental mistake.
"As the Hayne Royal Commission into Banking and Finance has shown so clearly, the remuneration policies of business have been notoriously effective in driving a 'win at all costs' performance culture that has seen fees levied from dead people and for services never provided. That a financial institution 'robbed the dead' is as unthinkable as an Australian cricket player taking sandpaper onto the field of play - and has prompted a similar response from the Australian public.
"For some, at least, within the world of banking and finance - the drive for performance has been relentless and has lacked ethical restraint. A singular focus on performance produces exactly what it is meant to do - a singular focus on performance! What CA has failed to do is focus just to an equivalent degree on actively building and sustaining a capacity for ethical restraint amongst individuals and the organisation as a whole."
In this duly unregulated environment, all sorts has gone on, manifested most glaringly in Cape Town but plenty of other areas, too. Right down to the commissioning of the dual reviews without any clear sense that their findings might reflect the need for consequences at the Board and executive levels, just as Steven Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft accepted their penalties for ball tampering, covering up and then lying once more in the public arena. CA did not reckon with the possibility that the Longstaff and McCosker reviews would do as they have - returned the Australian cricket public to a state of disbelief akin to that of April. Accountability, so ardently espoused by Argus, must run upwards as well as downwards.
"One of Argus's main themes was the need to foster a culture of accountability. It was an admirable aim - but one that has not been realised," the review states. "While those who lead 'on the field' are held personally accountable for their performance - liable to be 'dropped' for poor results or dismissed for bad conduct. The same standards do not apply to those who administer and govern the game. The issue here is one of consistency in relation to the obligations of leadership. One of the 'hard truths' of leadership is that a person may need to accept responsibility for matters over which they do not exercise direct control - both for acts and omissions in the conduct of one's leadership.
"In some respects, this is a 'sign of the times'. In general, standards of personal responsibility are lower than in times past e.g. when Government Ministers accepted responsibility for the conduct of their Departments. This is first and foremost a matter for individuals; under what circumstances will they accept and declare personal responsibility. It is the age-old question of cricket … are the leaders of the game like the batsman or batswoman who outsources responsibility to the umpire or do they take their cue from the fielder whose integrity is their own?"
What does that passage sound like, other than a thinly-veiled call for senior heads to roll? Australian cricket has thus been left with a review that all but calls for the removal of CA's leadership, and no discernible indication that the Board accepts this finding. Longstaff and McCosker have sought a level of credibility in their findings that was not readily discernible at the time they were commissioned, leaving CA's leaders looking the other way while the public renews its rage. It is not a pretty picture.