The surprise in the report is that the ball-tampering incident is not specifically addressed in a way that tells us anything we did not already know. Given it was the root problem of the fallout, and prompted condemnation from the Australian prime minister, among others, it might well have been a case of the current players closing ranks in the face of such public outrage. It is revealing that only 24% of them contributed.
The players’ charter that has come out of it – a subject of predictable mickey-taking on social media – will however be enlightening to a generation raised on the sort of behaviour the review looks at. After all, the report concludes that the Australian players have been fine-tuned for “the sole purpose of winning” and this has led to a “gilded bubble”, in which reside handsomely paid international travellers far removed from the people and communities who made them. The blame for this lies with CA, says the report, whose behaviour in commercial negotiations with sponsors, television companies, radio networks, and those players themselves, has been “arrogant and controlling”.
This must make for painful reading, especially for Sutherland, who is a thoroughly decent man and driven by traditional values. Somehow these stopped applying to his organisation. Perhaps he took his eye off the ball; all cricketers know just how destructive a mistake that can be. Probably he stayed in the job a little too long and the new wave had riders that went by him.
Australia has long held firm in the belief that the game must be structured with unwavering reference to the grounded school, club, state, country axis around which it has operated for so long and with such success. This, suggests the review, has been marginalised by the high-performance culture that encourages the pursuit of winning without any “ethical restraints”. There is more gruesome stuff – “Australian cricket has lost its balance… and stumbled badly”, for example – available in the report, which has been so widely covered here by Daniel Brettig.
In general, it is easy to be cynical about such reviews. The overwhelming feeling after ploughing through this one is that the process could have been simplified by having some blokes at the top of the game, those who know it best, coming together to sort things out. It is ongoingly infuriating that so few of the best cricket brains are involved in the running of the game, and this by no means applies only to Australia. In fact, Australia has one of the best, Mark Taylor, on its current board. Now that Peever has gone, Taylor would be a good choice to take his seat. The seat is ready for a cricket person.
This review, however, which is titled “Australian cricket: a Matter of Balance”, has been conducted through interviews with 56 people and responses to a survey by 469, all of whom have at some time in recent years been involved with either the national team, the governing body, the state associations, or have links with the game that are close to its heartbeat. It is thorough, it is raw, and it may prove to be more than a seminal investigation into Australian cricket.
“In one way, the report is empowering, because the administration of the national game of Australia has given itself a chance to wipe the slate clean: a process that will take almighty courage”
Of course, it is the Australians who are taking a beating, but people in glass houses and all that… The greatest value in this report will be its wide publication and therefore the reach of its message. Greed had overtaken common sense in cricket’s order of things: everything is for money and much less is for love. There is hardly a governing body in the world not guilty of taking this wonderful game down a less than wonderful path.
“A Matter of Balance” asks fundamental questions about sport’s place in our society and, specifically, about cricket’s values at a time when the game is so challenged that the England Cricket Board is pushing through yet another format: one that is designed to attract an audience that it feels is lost to the three formats that presently exist.
Cricket has survived because it is an incredibly special game, and a reflection of life. Its phrases and nuances are to be found everywhere we look and listen. It is both a simple and complicated game that suits all sizes and shapes, majorities and minorities. It does high and low like no other, with the capacity to lift its players to the clouds and dump them in the gutter in the same over. In a split moment, the taking of a fine catch will match the reflected glory of a long-fought-for hundred, or 25 overs of blood-and-sweat bowling that results in wresting control of a potentially doomed situation. But cricket is not to be messed with, for it has the habit of making those that do so pay the heaviest price.
Australian cricket has long held universal respect and, more often than not, other countries have looked to follow its example and emulate its methods. The list of names that have inspired cricketers across the continents trip off the tongue – from Bannerman, Trumper and Bradman to Lillee, Border and Warne. We should not imagine for one second that this will not soon be the case again. It is the circle of life, and cricket is inherent in Australian life and blood.
In summary to an interview Taylor gave the day before the release of “A Matter of Balance”, he said: “I’m concerned about the whole mood around the game. Even in grade cricket, we’ve got people walking off the field. I don’t enjoy seeing that. Yes, David [Peever] and I have had disagreements with the way things have been handled in the past, but sooner or later cricket – and everyone in cricket – has got to get over it. We’ve got to start moving on. This is a terrific game… the vast majority of people just want to go to the game or get on with playing it. I hear that from players and spectators. People just want to enjoy the game. They have to start getting over themselves and their own little agendas… and start thinking what’s good for the game.”
Except that 145 pages have had their say too.