Mickey Arthur: just the tip of the iceberg?

Well the inevitable has finally happened: Mickey Arthur has been sacked as the Australian cricket coach. The only surprise, from my perspective, is that Cricket Australia has chosen to take this step some 16 days before the start of the Ashes series. Given the performances of the team of late, it strikes me that the writing was on the wall much earlier than this week.


Coach Arthur was appointed to coach the Australian cricket team after the much vaunted Argus Review into Australian cricket, the report of which was handed down on 19 August 2011. During Arthur's time at the helm Australia won 10 of their 19 test matches but coming into the present series in England had been on a streak of four losses. Further, there have been some significant, and obvious, signs that the culture within the Australian team has taken a backward step under Arthur's reign and, indeed, since the implementation of the Argus Review's recommendations.


Given what has happened in Australian cricket since the implementation of Argus, is it only Mickey Arthur who should be worried about his job? In my view, the removal of Mickey Arthur is only the start of what might be the largest shake up, not only since Argus, but in the history of the administration of the game in this country.


For a start, the manager of the team on tour, and on the tour of India that preceded it, Gavin Dovey, must be struggling to hold his position with team. He, along with Arthur, has presided over the management of incidents such as “homework gate” and Warner's punch, and some would say, as much as the coach, the manager of the team must take some responsibility for the lowering of the standards, culturally and behaviourally, of the team. Based on the only measure that really counts when it comes to judging the work of the manager of the team, the behaviour of the players, it could only be said that Dovey has not succeeded in his task.


One of the massive changes made to the structure of the management of cricket in Australia post Argus was the introduction of the role of General Manager: Team Performance to oversee the team, coaching, selection and Centre of Excellence. That post has been filled by Pat Howard since its inception. Given the breadth of the role and my understanding of the basis of Arthur's sacking as coach (a mix of results and management of player behaviour leading to a loss of confidence from James Sutherland), surely based on the same measures Pat Howard's tenure must also be questionable to say the least. Simply put: the structure that Pat Howard has put in place has NOT lead to either acceptable results or a positive team environment. Why then should he stay in the job whilst Mickey Arthur goes?


Overarching all of this is a conundrum that has been floating around in my head for some time: why, in the context of waning performance and internal scandal, is the stewardship of the business of Cricket Australia by its CEO, James Sutherland, not under question as well? The success of a CEO of any business, including any sporting business, is, indeed must, be measured based on that business' results. There can be no denying that there a number things that James Sutherland has done well; afterall, he has just renegotiated the largest contract for the broadcast of cricket in Australia in the game's history. However, the commercial success of the business that is Cricket Australia only tells part of the story. The success of the team over which the CEO of any sporting team must also be measured is that of its success on the field.


It is here that I am of the view that it must be time for the board of Cricket Australia to closely look at a change in the very top of the leadership structure of the game because, no matter which way you look at it, the success of the Australian cricket team has waned under the watch of the present CEO. Many of you will be saying: we know this, but he doesn't have the players and the results were only bad for the last season and you can't sack him because of that. On both counts I respectfully disagree and here is why:


  1. Players of the calibre of G McGrath, S Warne and R Ponting do not come along every day. That said, it is the CEO of any business' remit to be responsible of succession planning within said business. Where the talent to handle the succession from a superstar is not readily available it is the CEO's responsibility to either search for ways to develop talent or import talent to fill the void. Importation, Fawad Ahmed aside, is not an option in this context which begs the question: what has Cricket Australia and its CEO done from a succession planning perspective to fill the void left by those who have departed the scene? I would answer that question by simply saying that the current state of the team would suggest not much. Indeed, as a fan, the impression one has is that the retirement of Warne and others has been met with a simple focus on finding the next Warne without a “Plan B”.
  2. The hallmark of a successful business not in the world of sport is its share price and its profit. A waning share price and a contracting profit are indicative of a business struggling to perform and quite often it is the CEO in that context that departs the scene as a result. To extend the analogy to the world of cricket, the benchmark for success for any central cricket management body must be focused, from an on the field perspective, on that team's wins percentage. An examination of the win percentage of the Australian cricket team in test cricket during the tenure of James Sutherland show san alarming downward trend. From the halcyon days of 2006 and 2007 when Australia was not defeated in any test match (100% win percentage over 14 tests), the winning percentage of the Australian cricket team since 2008 has been reduced to 46.88% (30 wins from 64 games). Worse still the winning percentage of Australia team in test cricket has shown a continuous downward trend since 2009 when Australia won 53.85% of games to this year when Australia has won only 20% of its games.

In face of these waning results alone, any CEO of a business in the same context would be under monumental pressure. When was the last time a CEO of a listed company survived an 80% reduction in the share price over a 5 year period? I would hazard a guess that there would be few who would survive in that context. That is before the obvious other factors in play here. Sutherland has been at the helm during the obvious diminishing of the culture within the team noted above and is one of the core architects of the current structure of management in the game which, on any fair examination, is not serving it or the game well.


In my view, if Sutherland was CEO of anything other than a sporting organisation he would be out of a job: the shareholders of the business would have demanded his exit in the face of such a reduction in results and standards. Why shouldn't the stakeholders of cricket in Australia, the fans, also not see a change in the position that makes the major decisions that effect the game in this country in the face a sharply waning results?


In my opinion, the departure of Mickey Arthur is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the fallout from Australian cricket's current problems. The board of Cricket Australia though will do themselves and the games stakeholders a massive disservice if they do not look past Arthur, Dovey and Howard and consider closely the role of James Sutherland in all of this. I, for one, think it is time for a change at the top of the game because the ideas of the past of the CEO and his implementation of the review he demanded are failing to conjure the results needed for him to stay.


The next move by Cricket Australia will be a critical one: if they get it wrong a further reduction in the winning percentage noted above will be least of their problems.

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