Who’s responsible for Australia’s plight?

Date: March 20, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

At present everyone has an opinion on the Australian cricket team and its governor, Cricket Australia.

In the main those opinions are strongly held and given voice with passion.

With the team floundering in India at present and facing the prospect of a four-nil whitewash some fans are really going in hard – on twitter, radio talkback, letters to the editor – wherever they can find an outlet for their frustrations.

But just how much blame should be directed at CA with regard to some of the key areas that are causing the greatest angst with the punters?

Much of what is being vilified are issues that arose out of the Argus Report, a team performance review initiated by CA in the wake of the Ashes loss in 2010-11.

The panel charged with reviewing all aspects of the Australian team’s performance was led by former BHP Billiton and National Australia Bank chairman, Don Argus, a man with a very solid background in corporate management and governance.

The second member of the panel was Malcolm Speed, former CEO of both CA and the ICC.

The last three men called upon to make up the committee were former Australian Test captains Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh.

Between that trio – regarded by most cricket followers as some of the best brains in Australian cricket – they boasted a total of 428 matches in the baggy green, 200 of them as skipper.

If you were going to select three men with cricket pedigree to help shape the future of the sport at elite level in this country it is hard to imagine choosing a more worthy trio.

When men like them speak, along with the other two panellists with such strong administrative backgrounds in business and sport, CA would be hard pressed to argue with their recommendations.

And yet, that is what a vast number of Australian cricket fans are currently doing – telling the likes of Border, Taylor and Waugh that they don’t know what they are doing.

It was this panel that recommended the current restructure of the National Selection Panel.

Their exact recommendation was that the NSP for Tests, ODIs and T20s consist of:

  • A full-time national selector (who will chair the panel and retain a casting vote)
  • The Test, ODI and T20 captain as appropriate
  • The Head Coach
  • Two independent, part-time selectors

So, the CEO and the board of CA – most of whom don’t have strong playing backgrounds – are handed this recommendation from three esteemed former captains with over 400 Tests of experience.

It would seem a pretty fair bet that what the Argus group believed was the right way to take cricket forward would be implemented.

And why not, some of the most erudite cricket minds were making the recommendation.

Most cricket fans welcomed the appointment of Border, Taylor and Waugh to review the sport.

So, if the bulk of us believed they were the right men and CA did also, how could they have made such a cock-up?

Is it we, mere armchair critics that know more than three great minds of the game?

Apparently so when you read the vitriol that is currently being cast at CA for allowing such a change to be implemented.

People argue that the coach should not be a selector. Why?

Alex Ferguson has a say in selecting Manchester United’s team each week.

Kookaburras coach Ric Charlesworth is on the selection panel of Hockey Australia.

And the coaches of every one of the 18 clubs in the AFL are on their respective selection panels, often with all the assistant coaches.

Fans say having a coach as a selector is a bad move because players could feel uncomfortable talking to them about certain issues as it may affect their selection.

Strangely though, myriad other teams and sports seem to have no problem with the concept.

People also point to the fact that the captain should not be a selector yet three former highly successful Australian Test captains believed it was the way to go.

Surely, as a result of having such an intimate knowledge of the selection process they must have had extremely sound reasons for recommending the skipper be placed on the NSP.

When men like that say it is necessary you can fully understand why ‘mere administrators’ agree.

People criticized the appointment of John Inverarity to the role of NSP chairman saying he had been out of the game for too long.

But is that really such an issue?

Selectors don’t need to be fully conversant with the latest trends in biomechanics, diet and which isotonic drink works best – they simply need to know how to evaluate cricketing talent.

And I would think a man who was seen as having one of the most astute minds in the game during his tenure as captain of Western Australia would certainly still have the nous and wherewithal to identify talent.

People will always disagree with certain selections or omissions but ruling Inverarity out on grounds of his time away from a hands on role in the sport is not relevant.

I would feel the same if rather than Inverarity, CA had appointed the likes of Ric McCosker or Paul Sheehan.

Then there is the rotation policy.

Nobody seems to like it yet the likes of Rod Marsh, a tough as nails throwback to the truly macho days of Australian cricket obviously does as he is a selector.

Some may argue that he has just one vote amongst five.

True, he could be outvoted but I would think that a man of Marsh’s character would soon resign his post if he felt cricket was heading down the wrong path.

Even the quintessential never-say-die Dennis Lillee has spoken out in favour of the rotation policy.

The Argus Report also suggested that a new position be created – general manager of team performance.

This is the role that Pat Howard currently holds.

But hang on, isn’t he from a rugby background?

He may not be the right man for the job, and recruitment mistakes can always occur, but simply ruling people out because they come from a different sport is extremely short-sighted.

Professional sport is a business, and as such, cross pollination should be accepted in all areas just as it is in the corporate world.

The role Howard occupies is still an administrative one and not one that requires him to coach or instruct players on technique.

Plenty of sports in this country have either employed or ‘poached’ administrators from other codes – Malcolm Speed from basketball to cricket; John O’Neill from rugby to soccer; former AFL powerbroker Ben Buckley moved to the FFA; and David Gallop, the former  CEO of the NRL took the same role at the FFA.

It happens all the time.

The poaching of foreign coaches is yet another very common occurrence nowadays, especially in cricket.

Zimbabwean Duncan Fletcher coached England and is now overseeing India’s demolition of Australia; Gary Kirsten coached India before taking over his native South Africa; New Zealander John Wright coached India and Zimbabwe’s Andy Flower will be in charge of England at this year’s Ashes series.

Australians Tom Moody, Dav Whatmore, Geoff Lawson, Steve Rixon, Geoff Marsh, Jamie Siddons, John Dyson and several others have been snapped up overseas.

Australia is not the font of all knowledge in the cricketing world and the appointment of Mickey Arthur, who masterminded South Africa’s series victory in Australia in 2007-08 – the first by a touring team in 15 years – en route to taking the Proteas to world number one, boasted excellent credentials when CA appointed him as the Australian coach.

And then there is the current captain.

Taylor, Ian Chappell, Richie Benaud and many other cricketing sages saw him as the right option to replace Ponting.

During the Australian summer many experts, including former national captains, praised his tactical nous and attacking attitude plus the way he was able to improve his own personal output despite the added burdens of captaincy – after 24 Tests at the helm he scored nine centuries and averaged 66.

Now, a handful of weeks later and with a fractious tour of India both on and off the field some are righting him off.

Sure, he may need to work on his interpersonal skills off the ground and if he is sensible he will accept it band CA will arrange it.

But, as a match day skipper, he has received the tick from many people in the game who have powerful and influential voices.

So, there you have it.

Some of the things implemented of late may not have worked out and that is often the case in business.

But before guns are levelled at CA, in particular, remember just who it is they have taken their advice and guidance from – Allan Border, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh, Ian Chappell, Rod Marsh, Dennis Lillee et al.

Some things may have not worked out as hoped but it is worth remembering that many of the things implemented came from some of the best cricketing brains in the world.

And that being the case it would seem strange if a bunch of administrators didn’t take their recommendations on board.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 19 March 2013