From ball tampering to Big Bash: Highs and lows of Sutherland's innings

As Steve Smith and David Warner were packing their bags to fly home, James Sutherland was chatting to journalists over a quiet pre-dinner beer at the end of another torrid day.

Fifteen years earlier, he told them, he had been in the same bar at Johannesburg's InterContinental Hotel after sending Shane Warne home from the World Cup for a failed drugs test.

As far as crises get, few have been bigger than the two which bookended Sutherland's 17-year reign as the boss of Australian cricket.

James Sutherland copped plenty of criticism over Cricket Australia's handling of the ball tampering crisis.

James Sutherland copped plenty of criticism over Cricket Australia’s handling of the ball tampering crisis.Credit:AAP

The release of the reviews on Monday will bring the investigative phase of the ball tampering scandal to an end, even if the ramifications are still being felt.

The problem is no longer Sutherland's problem to manage. He finished officially on Thursday. The coming summer will be his first since 1998 not as an employee of CA or, as it was known then, the Australian Cricket Board.

He will not miss the day-to-day issues that arise during an international season nor 4am phonecalls or Sunday morning press conferences.

Ball tampering

Like many Australians, Sutherland had pulled stumps on day three of the Newlands Test well before the drama unfolded. He was delivered the news by CA's head of communications Tim Whittaker after the press conference that would seal Smith's fate.

"That's the first I knew of it then," Sutherland recalls. "I knew it was not good.

"There were different versions of events from different people that led to that media conference. It was clear in that there was confusion with the real story."

While CA has already made changes – such as the way leaders are now selected and a player driven charter – more will come from the recommendations made by the review conducted by The Ethics Centre.

"I said right from the start, the game will be a lot better for this," Sutherland says. "Ever since that moment that thing happened in Cape Town we have been working to support our team and work with our team to improve.

"I think we all felt an element of responsibility for what happened when it did happen.

"As I said publicly at the time, it was heartbreaking to think that could happen in a game. I don't think it will ever happen again, I'm pretty confident about that, certainly not by an Australian team."

Warne drugs scandal

Sutherland had dealt with the collapse of Ansett, which was the ACB's major sponsor and carrier, early in his tenure but Warne's positive drugs test was his first major on-field crisis.

"You couldn't have a bigger issue with a bigger player to upset the team's prepration for the World Cup," Sutherland says.

"I certainly remember walking into that media conference. There were 100 cameras because every media outlet in the world was there ready for the start of the World Cup, and Shane Warne was there so they were all over it."

Warne was handed a 12-month ban but his form upon his return enabled him to restore his reputation.

Champion team

It is with some irony that Sutherland leaves with the team at one of its lowest ebbs. Throughout the first half of his tenure, Australia fielded one of the best sides the game has ever seen but, he recalls, "romantics" would bemoan how predictable the game was becoming due to Australia's dominance.

"What I used to say then is you can't take this for granted … because there's no way Australian cricket team will dominate for 20-30 years," Sutherland says.

"These players will retire at some stage so appreciate what you're seeing, how good they are and understand the challenges of coming into international cricket."

Worryingly, CA found the feats of Warne, Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting and co. were not enough to bring new fans to the game. This hit home at the 2009 Australian cricket conference when CA formulated its next cricket strategy.

"Our research showed there was a disconnect, particularly at junior level in the game. We were at risk of losing a generation of cricket fans," Sutherland says.

"When you extrapolate that lost generation down the track, you lose parents of kids and then go on to decline. That was the wake up call in 2009 that led to really significant changes in how we managed entry level particpation. We properly nationalised that and launched the BBL."

Big Bash League

The domestic Twenty20 competition is arguably the greatest change in Sutherland's time. What had been an interstate competition was now an eight-team city-based league which would bring domestic cricket to prime time audiences.

The game is still wrestling with the implications for Australia's high performance system but the BBL has provided CA with an additional revenue stream, reducing their reliance on the international game for financial security.

CA had noted how the AFL and NRL were not beholden to external forces, unlike cricket. A year earlier, CA had been on tenterhooks during India's brinkmanship during the Monkeygate storm.

"Our business at the time was 95 per cent or more reliant on male international cricket revenue, it was at risk to external factors we had no control over," Sutherland says.

"We're now in a place where we have quite a good balance in that regards."

Women's cricket

The rise of the women's game is another major recent change, even if it has come later than Sutherland would have liked. This season has seen the national team on prime time while the WBBL, introduced in 2015, will also bring more TV exposure.

It's a far cry from 2005 when CA paid Fox Sports to broadcast the World Cup final. Even then, it was shown on the fashion channel as their sports channels were full.

"You project to 2018 and it's certainly a source of pride the women's game justifies a place on FTA TV, pay TV where people have paid a rights fee," Sutherland says.

"It's great for the women's game and the professionalisation of the women's league but more importantly it's great for girls out there who love cricket because there's more and more playing, they can see they have a very clear view of a pathway they can follow."


It's been 10 years since the ugly saga, which stemmed from the SCG Test in 2008, but how it was handled clearly rankles Sutherland to this day. Angered by the penalty handed to Harbhajan Singh, India threatened to boycott the tour.

"Knowing the people better now in terms of the administration of Indian cricket than I did back then in 2008 I know their threats were absolutely dead set genuine," Sutherland says.

"If that's something that I reflect on, that was disappointing in the way it turned out. I don't have an answer for how it could have turned out better because I feel it was almost had a complete stand-off.

"Ultimately I don't think the appeals process was handled as well as it could have been.

"The facts of the matter were Harbhajan's record was never properly tabled when the judge considered what penalty he should get after the appeal. They're all little things along the way that might have appeased people differently had he got an appropriate penalty."


This could also apply to the homework debacle on the 2013 tour of India where Mitchell Johnson, Usman Khawaja, Shane Watson and James Pattinson were all banned for a Test for not completing a feedback task set by coach Mickey Arthur. The episode was a big cross next to Arthur's name and was a major reason why he was axed months later before the Ashes.

"People haven't handed in a bit of paper and the consequences are we have four changes to the Test team for the next game. Surely you give yourself some wiggle room to do something different," Sutherland says.

"It was regrettable. It actually played out in such a way it some ways undermined Mickey's leadership and the confidence in him as coach and his relationship with his players.

"I rate Mickey very, very highly and have nothing but respect for him but it created some gaps where it unravelled a little bit and was never able to be put back together."

Ashes whitewash and World Cup glory

Arthur's sacking led to the appointment of Darren Lehmann, who oversaw the Ashes whitewash in 2014/15 and the World Cup triumph on home soil. It was the high point for the first generation of players to come after the golden era.

"We had success but that's not to say we couldn't have trod that path with Mickey there," Sutherland says.

The World Cup was, in Sutherland's eyes, a reminder of how the 50-over format could prosper in the age of Twenty20.

"A lot of people were a bit ho hum about one-day cricket then they saw a World Cup where you had 86,000 watching India v South Africa and everyone's going "Wow, I've never seen anything like this at the MCG"."


Earlier that season, world cricket was rocked by the death of Phillip Hughes. Four years on, Sutherland is still in disbelief that a man could have been taken in his prime playing the game he loved.

While the nation grieved, Sutherland and his team at CA were also dealing with logistical and political issues behind the scenes with the BCCI.

"We told India our players aren't ready to play the first Test," Sutherland says.

'They said "OK, when are we starting?" I said "not sure, just bear with us".

"They were very, very quickly losing patience, and everyone else. We had sponsors, broadcasters all over the world saying "when's this series starting?".

"That emotional aspect of it was incredibly difficult, and we had this overlay of trying to get the show back on the road."

What next

From now on, Sutherland's most pressing cricket issues will centre around his children. His oldest son Will, though currently injured, has broken through for Victoria, his daughter Annabel is rising through the ranks, and he is coaching the team his youngest child Tom plays in.

"In some ways the family doesn't know anything different to me working in cricket," Sutherland says.

"They might not like the idea of me being around as much, let's wait and see how that goes. I'd like to think they can get used to it in a positive way, they might just find I get in the way.

Asked if he would throw his hat in the ring for the chief executive's job with the International Cricket Council, which is based in Dubai, Sutherland says: "Is that based in Melbourne?

"My family and I are pretty settled in Melbourne, I dont' think I'll be moving too far away."

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