Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
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If the broken visage of Steven Smith at Sydney airport was enough to push Darren Lehmann into resigning, then the commercial fallout from the ball-tampering scandal has pushed the Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland closer to the precipice than at any stage of his eventful 17-year tenure.
In response to a question about his own future before departing Johannesburg, Sutherland was bullish. "Look, I'm absolutely committed to my job," he said. "My employment and tenure is a matter for the board of Cricket Australia. But I'm not resigning. And in fact what's happened over the last few days has only strengthened my resolve to ensure Australian cricket and the Australian cricket team gets back on track and gets back in a place where it has not only the full respect but the pride of the Australian community."
But the business and culture questions mounting around Sutherland at a rapid rate leave him facing a rapidly worsening landscape, not at all stabilised by the harsh penalties meted out to Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft. Sutherland admitted he did not watch Smith's anguished arrival on Thursday morning South Africa time, and this was probably understandable in the context of what had unfolded overnight. Magellan, CA's Test series sponsor, pulled out of a deal that still had another two years to run on account of the damage the game's image and reputation have suffered.
"A conspiracy by the leadership of the Australian Men's Test Cricket Team which broke the rules with a clear intention to gain an unfair advantage during the third test in South Africa goes to the heart of integrity," Magellan CEO Hamish Douglass said in the statement. "These recent events are so inconsistent with our values that we are left with no option but to terminate our ongoing partnership with Cricket Australia."
Still more damaging was the revelation that Channel Nine, the prime broadcaster of cricket in Australia for more than 40 years, had signed a new deal to cover the summer of tennis up to and including the high-rating Australian Open. In the wake of the announcement, Sutherland received assurances from the Nine chief executive Hugh Marks that the network was still very much interested in the rights to cricket, but there were several factors to be digested.
Marks has previously made no secret of the fact that he does not see the need for Nine to maintain the umbilical connection to cricket that his predecessors David Gyngell and David Leckie, in particular, maintained either side of the death of Kerry Packer in 2005. There have also been strong indications that Nine does not wish to again pay the AUD 500 million price tag CA slapped on its international summer of cricket in 2013.
In that context, a five-year deal with tennis, to the tune of AUD 300 million, diverts a huge amount of the money Nine would usually invest in cricket, in a climate where the network is looking to spend less overall, rather than more. "We are delighted that Wide World of Sports will become the new home of tennis in Australia," Marks said, before omitting cricket from the network's suite of sports.
"The Australian Open is an incredible tournament and event which will complement our existing rights across NRL, State of Origin, Netball and The Masters, as well as providing benefits to our news, entertainment and lifestyle pillars. Critical to this deal is the exclusive acquisition of all rights, which means we are unrestricted in our ability to serve tennis to audiences across the country anytime, anywhere, on the platform of their choosing."
That aforementioned exclusivity is not available to Nine in cricket, due to the CA digital project which Nine has subsidised to the tune of some AUD 40 million since 2013. The other key players in rights negotiations, Ten, Fox Sports and Seven, all have some interest in cricket, but the former pair would prefer to do a collective deal with Nine also involved, while there are doubts about Seven's capacity to match CA's asking price - with the added complication that they still have the tennis for another summer.
Any hope that all three players will accept their sanctions and move on, meanwhile, is slipping away in the wake of Warner's indications that he is strongly considering his options, and the Australian Cricketers Association giving every indication it is preparing a players' defence for any subsequent code of behaviour hearing before an independent commissioner. All week, Sutherland stressed the importance of following the right process to conclude the matter - unable to announce action against the players in Melbourne, then needing two days in Johannesburg to announce charges and penalties.
But for all that the ACA, no strangers to picking holes in CA's codes and policies after last year's MoU dispute, was swiftly out in the public arena outlining a series of what it called "glaring and clear anomalies" about the process Sutherland had been so focused on getting right. Amid raising issues of proportionality and context, as well as the circumstances around Smith and Bancroft's press conference on the Saturday night at Newlands, perhaps the most significant question raised is the matter of "the activation of CA's Board as a deliberative body on the proposed sanctions".
Under the code of behaviour, only the head of integrity, Iain Roy, is empowered to review any report not lodged to a match referee, and then to put together a notice of charge outlining the offences and proposed sanctions. No mention is made of either the chief executive or the Board being permitted involvement in the process.
This contradicts the public comments made by Sutherland about the process by which the penalties were reached, suggesting a collaborative process between him and the Board. "I can assure you there were considerations and views around the table that were all over the place," Sutherland had said. "Higher sanctions for all three players, lower sanctions for all three players and it is one of those things that needs to be carefully considered."
The prospect of penalties being commuted or thrown out on this technicality depend on whether any of the players commit to challenging their penalties via a hearing, something that neither Warner nor Bancroft have ruled out. The ACA stated that the players union "continues to provide welfare and legal support to all players".
Lastly and most savagely, Sutherland has been the subject of personal attacks from two separate directions. The prominent radio broadcaster Alan Jones has made allegations about the behaviour of Sutherland's son, Will Sutherland, as an under-age cricketer, while elsewhere the former IPL impresario Lalit Modi fired off a raft of allegations via social media. Sutherland was notably angered by the Jones accusations, which followed his receipt of a letter from the former Wallabies rugby coach defending Warner and imploring CA not to impose penalties "inconsistent with the ICC standard". Jones' subsequent attack via Sutherland's son suggested that things are getting nastier and more personal than ever, the more desperate this episode becomes.
The last question Sutherland was asked before he departed for home concerned the future of the Australian coaching role after Lehmann. "We don't play any international cricket for a few months now," Sutherland said. "It's not until I think June the team's due in England so Darren's the coach for the remainder of this tour, this Test match.
"I wish the team all the very best for that in the last Test with Darren in charge. But we've got plenty of time to work through that. I know there's a lot of talent in the coaching ranks back in Australia but also reflect on the fact that amongst international cricket there are a lot of Australian coaches that are performing very well."
Whether Sutherland is still around to deliberate on the identity of that next coach may hinge on the next developments in what is now an utterly wild, febrile and unpredictable environment for what is supposed to be Australia's favourite sport.