The Australian Cricket Family is still cranky

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David Armstrong outlines 7 things Cricket Australia can focus on to ensure cricket remains Australia’s greatest game.

No sooner were Andrew Strauss and his team celebrating England’s convincing retention of The Ashes in Australia this year, than Australian cricket fans turned their attention to Cricket Australia for answers to the national team’s failure.

So many aspects of the game in Australia had been taken for granted during the golden era and following the departure of Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist and Hayden, all was laid horribly bare. A daft blindness to aspects of the game that are critical to a national team’s success had developed; fundamental pillars such as slips catching, swing bowling and the Sheffield Shield had been allowed to run down.

With two Cricket Australia reviews very privately underway, Australians expect any shortcomings to be addressed and like any organisation, Cricket Australia must undertake this rebuild at a time when significant societal shifts continue to occur in the landscape for Cricket in Australia.

Now 6 months on from that dreadful Ashes defeat, when media and supporter commentary about Cricket Australia’s rebuild should be based on a constructive assessment of progress, it continues to reflect anger. Kicking Cricket Australia is currently so popular, it has become indiscriminate. Today, even when Cricket Australia is making sound decisions, it seems perfectly acceptable to lay the boots into everyone within the peak body.

In reality, the pathway returning Australia to its number one position in world cricket rankings involves many steps. Providing Cricket Australia is taking these steps with informed urgency, the Australian cricket public could be more selective in its criticism of the peak body. If on the other hand, over the next few months Cricket Australia avoids the big issues, then it will be time for cricket lovers to overthrow the stubborn few.

At the risk of simplifying the work of various reviews already under way within and independent of Cricket Australia, it appears that resolving seven issues for cricket in Australia would provide a pathway back to world Cricket leadership for this cricket loving nation. Confronting these priorities at a time when the landscape for cricket is also shifting inevitably means that other potential distractions should be deliberately pushed to the side in the interest of delivering the higher priorities. No organisation, sporting or otherwise can fix everything now, instead it must elevate issues which are both urgent and important, above those which are only one or the other.

The seven big issues (both urgent and important).

1. Replace the 105 year old Cricket Australia Board structure with an AFL style commission and clearly identify and separate the roles of the Commission from those of Management.

2. Remove the costly, non-critical and duplicated activities of the “federation of states” by constructing a national cricket organisation, complete with local leadership of teams and competitions. Cut our cloth, to suit the tightened budget.

3. Fully resource the critical selection and coaching panels required by the three national teams. Work directly with the 25 contracted national players and the next level down.

4. Restore the quality of the Sheffield Shield competition to ensure it once again becomes the comprehensive preparation ground of future Test cricketers.

5. Carefully build the Big Bash League as an entertaining cricket format, to inspire younger Australians to enjoy our oldest game.

6. Establish a series of opportunities for all young Australians to participate in, or connect with, cricket from age 5 on, in the hope they remain interested for life.

7. Present gifted cricketing sportspeople with a compelling career path in cricket as an alternative to AFL.

Distractions; urgent or important, but are not both.

1. Discovering alternative revenue streams. Cricket Australia must fix its core business before inventing new businesses

2. Private ownership of Big Bash League teams. This has already retarded Big Bash League progress; it is not a priority in the current circumstances.

3. Should Simon Katich get one more year? Arguably he should, but Australia’s priority now is to rebuild.

4. Pursuing T20 audience types who have no interest in cricket. If budgets are tight, only pursue the fertile ground, those audiences that have an interest.

5. Mangling T20 Cricket rules for Big Bash League marketing purposes. These impulsive changes damage the credibility of Cricket Australia.

6. Should players, in addition to receiving 26% of cricket revenues also get 26% of Australian crickets investment incomes? Providing players with questionable access to the financial assets of Cricket in Australia is neither urgent nor important.

If Cricket Australia fixes the 7 big issues, it follows that many other issues will then be resolved. For example, replacing the current antiquated Board structure with a Commission will improve the agility of Cricket Australia, enabling it to compete more effectively in the entertainment market place. Restoring the competitiveness of Australia’s on field performance, will enhance the value of media rights both in Australia and overseas.

Disappointed cricket fans still want to know what went wrong and what the plan to fix it is. Though probably not intended, Cricket Australia’s current approach to communicating progress to fans is a series of adhoc announcements lacking context; the week before last came news that only 2 of 8 Big Bash League teams will be part owned by private investors, last week suggestions that T20 Wides will attract a free hit in the Big Bash League, and more recently the news that Simon Katich has not been granted a contract. The Australian cricket fan is confused and assumes Cricket Australia has lost its sense of direction.

In 2007 Cricket Australia created the “Australian Cricket Family”, it provided a sense of community and special privileges for the most loyal cricket fans. While it may have been a marketing initiative of Cricket Australia back then, those family members assumed they were valued and embraced, as the name implies. Today those family members are still waiting to hear from Cricket Australia about what went wrong and what will be done to fix it. They are not feeling valued or embraced, they are feeling angry.

Cricket Australia should outline their rebuilding plan to the Australian Cricket supporters, and provide regular updates on their progress. This informs keen followers and welcomes them on the journey back to the top. It also represents an understanding between cricket leaders and fans, an important bridge to restoring lost trust. If this is provided the media and the Australian Cricket Family may stop kicking Cricket Australia.

lead image of Strauss celebrating courtesy of:

Related Reading:

Simon Katich on Australian Selection Policy by Matthew Wood

Gideon Haigh Interview on the Future of Cricket

Dear Cricket Australia by Ben Roberts

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