You would be hard pressed to find two men braver than James Sutherland and Pat Howard. There are few who could claim to possess the nerve, the audacity, nay the sheer balls to the wall bravado that these two men exhibited this past week. Their stand was akin to George Washington leading his troops from the front, putting his own skin on the line in a winner takes all pursuit of success. Because that is what they have effectively done. By shooting down Mickey Arthur, before the Ashes most likely made his position untenable anyway, they have managed to undermine not only their own positions, but the entire foundation of Cricket Australia. It is a bold gamble on a scale rarely seen. And we should know whether it paid off or not within a few months.
In response to this week’s events, the author spent a most pleasurable hour or two leafing through the Argus Report, that most august review of Australian cricketing woes, and the establishment of the means with which to most effectively remedy them. Sure, it was less enjoyable than weeding my village in Animal Crossing, but stumbling across points such as winning the 2012 T20 World Cup as being one of the short term aims of the reforms, helped the time to pass more happily.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of perusing this missive, it essentially outlines how the management of Australian cricket can drag itself out of the stone age and adopt a more modern and professional approach. In other words it essentially blamed everything on Andrew Hilditch. The most amusing of all the report’s recommendations is this pearl on page 10: “Create a single point of accountability within CA for Australian Team Performance. That should be a new role entitled “General Manager, Australian Team Performance””. Just in case anyone is unaware, that position is currently held by Pat Howard. Who this week seemed quite happy to pass along all accountability for the Australian Team Performance onto Mickey Arthur.
But enough bitching about Pat Howard; there is probably more of that on the internet then porn these days. According to the guidelines laid out in the Argus Report Arthur did very little wrong during his tenure, but this is a point that has been already thoroughly explored elsewhere, with the near universal opinion being he was made a fall guy for others failures. Who some of those ‘others’ are shouldn’t be difficult to deduce. As for the identity of the ring-leader, well, we don’t call him (ex) Captain Dickhead for nothing.
But the real consequences of Sutherland and Howard’s actions have deeper implications than the unfortunate manner in which Arthur was treated. The spirit, if not the letter, of the Argus Report was simple: get rid of the ex-players and allow a more professional leadership structure to be installed. By jettisoning Arthur and replacing him with Darren Lehmann, they have let the ex-players straight back in. One of Lehmann’s first statements was that the dressing room was open to all ex-players who thought they had something to contribute. Although it’s not yet clear whether that invitation extends to Greg Chappell. Or Scot Muller.
Lehmann is undoubtedly the right choice for the job, and probably the only person capable of saving the upcoming Ashes from turning into a bloodbath. By jumping early Sutherland and Howard have given Australian cricket that much at least. But by bringing in Lehmann early they have effectively put a noose around their own necks. One link of the Argus Report has been severed, and the entire edifice could, as a consequence, subsequently fall apart quite easily. A heavy loss in England would see John Inverarity jettisoned, but he can console himself with the fact that Howard, and maybe even Sutherland himself, will probably be right there to carry his bags for him. And who will replace them? Yep, more ex-players. Ian Chappell? Sure. Mark Waugh? Why not. Damien Martyn? Well if you are determined to make a complete mess of the joint you might as well do a decent job of it.
The point (yes, there is a point to this. Kinda) is that Australian cricket currently stands uncomfortably close to sliding back into the sort of condition it was in when the rot set in during the late part of the last decade. The best part of the last five years are in danger of simply being written off. Sure Australian cricket could hardly find itself at a lower ebb than the one it currently inhabits, but sweeping away the Argus Report would be an admission that short terms results are preferable to long term growth. For a sport that is already dangerously close to becoming a sideshow in the Australian summer (because the A-League is bloody awesome), this would be an ominous development. Given that Australia plays about eleventy billion Test matches against England and South Africa in the near future, there is the very real prospect of things actually getting worse from here (Devereux inspired performances aside of course) unless the next few steps are not taken very, very, carefully.
Australian cricket is veering perilously close to hearing the bells toll, in this case in the form of Shane Warne saying “I told you so”.