Michael Clarke looks dejected after day five of the 5th Investec Ashes Test match between England and Australia at the Oval. Photo: Getty Images
Sacked Australia coach Mickey Arthur says Cricket Australia heavyweights James Sutherland, Pat Howard and even Michael Clarke are in danger of losing their jobs if England win a fourth consecutive Ashes series this summer.
It is four months since the South African mentor was led into a room in the Australian team’s hotel in Bristol by Howard, CA’s general manager of team performance, and told his services were no longer required.
At that point there only 16 days to go until the first leg of this year’s back-to-back Ashes series, ultimately won 3-0 by England. Arthur was made the fall guy for a disintegrating team culture that had reached its lowest ebb as Australia were thrashed 4-0 in India in February and March.
Now, the 45-year-old believes the futures of the men who axed him – CA chief executive Sutherland and Howard – as well as Test captain Clarke are on the line in the five-Test series starting in Brisbane on November 21.
“There are some serious players in Cricket Australia under a lot of pressure around this Test series,” Arthur told Fairfax Radio. “If they lose this Test series there is going to be a lot of questions asked. I think James Sutherland, I think Pat Howard, I think Michael Clarke . . . I think some serious heads could roll if Australia don’t win this Test series.”
Sutherland has been the great survivor of Australian cricket’s decline. The former Victorian bowler has been CEO since 2001 and has been credited with capitalising on Australia’s relationships abroad, filling cricket’s coffers with broadcasting revenue primarily from the subcontinent. A record domestic television deal, and the success of the Big Bash League are also big ticks in his corner.
However, Sutherland has also been fingered for allowing the development of cricketers in Australia to slide via complacency during the country’s glory days earlier this century. The latest criticism of the CA hierarchy has come from Ricky Ponting. The retired Australian captain admits in his newly released autobiography At the Close of Play that he was flabbergasted to be told by Sutherland during a conversation in 2011 that “no one ever spends money when they are going well”.
Ponting has also expressed his displeasure at the way in which the Argus review into the performance of Australian cricket was conducted following the 3-1 defeat to England at home in 2010/11.
He said this week he had turned up to his meeting with the Argus panel with extensive notes, prepared to discuss the game’s key issues all day, but was only asked a few questions before his interview was over. “In Australia they find themselves in the situation they are now because they didn’t listen at the right times,” Ponting said in an interview with Fairfax Media. “Five or six years ago was when they needed to be ensuring we kept producing the type of players we had in the late 90s and early 2000s.”
On Sutherland’s performance Ponting added: “It’s a tough question to answer because business-wise it’s gone well so internally they are probably patting themselves on the back. Also five years ago he was trying to get things across the line with the board and I know there brakes put on some things by the board . . . I just think we’re so far behind a lot of other sports in Australia it’s not funny.”
A Sutherland appointee Howard was handed one of cricket’s most important jobs two years ago. While the Australian team is challenging for the world’s top ranking in one-day cricket, he has overseen a era in which the country has won only one of 10 Tests this year, and sits at seventh in the ICC ratings in the Twenty20 format.
Clarke has been Test captain since Ponting stood down in March 2011. While his leadership will be under scrutiny the fact he is the nation’s top batsman – and the absence of any ready-made replacement captain – lessens the likelihood of Clarke being flicked.