What sort of joke is this? asks Michael Jeh on Sutherland's sandpaper-gate remarks

Nov 03, 2018, 08:30 IST | Michael Jeh

Is James Sutherland indicating that the ball tampering incident in Cape Town was triggered by disgraceful crowd behaviour? If so, just ban sandpaper purchases and be done with it

What sort of joke is this? asks Michael Jeh on Sutherland's sandpaper-gate remarks
Former Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland (left) with David Peever during a media interaction in Melbourne last June. Peever resigned after a report slammed the Board’s functioning. Pic/Getty Images

It comes as no surprise that David Peever has finally fallen on his sword, resigning on Thursday. Like the entire scandal that led to these events, it's not that he acted honourably - he simply had no choice. Can we expect another tearful press conference from him too?

Given CEO James Sutherland's confusing (and perhaps confused) interview with ESPNCricinfo recently, the grassroots volunteers at the coalface remain steadfastly sceptical and scornful of what may emerge from the mess that is currently Australian cricket.

Something fishy
Sutherland claims that he turned off his television at the end of the third day of the infamous Cape Town Test and therefore did not see footage of Cameron Bancroft's ball tampering incident. So here's my problem with that version of the story; I myself watched those events unfolding "live" and the damning footage was aired a long time before the end of play.

In fact, it was my 13-year-old daughter who woke me up to tell me that something fishy was going on, long before the footage had even emerged. She was triggered by the unusual way that Bancroft was shining the ball and she immediately felt that something was amiss. We then started watching it intently so when the commentators finally blew the whistle, it came as no surprise to us. With that much excitement around, I woke up the rest of my family and we watched the final session of play and then stayed awake till perhaps 3 am (4 am in Melbourne where Sutherland lives) because we knew that the post-match press conference was going to change the face of cricket forever.

Let's get a few facts straight here. If Sutherland had switched off at the end of play, he must have known there was a massive storm brewing. The entire last session of play was consumed by these unfolding events. So we are to believe that the CEO of an organisation under siege blithely switched off his TV and drifted into a peaceful slumber when he knew that a major cheating incident was afoot? If that is true, then questions need to be asked of whether that is appropriate leadership.
He also claims that he allegedly switched off his TV at about midnight.

Given the different time zones between Cape Town and Melbourne, midnight would almost have been before the tea interval. So either he never watched the cricket until close of play or he did watch to the bitter end, witnessed everything and still chose to retire to his warm bed. The timelines simply don't add up. Like most of the events that transpired in Cape Town, truth appears to have been the first casualty.

"I'd like to think that my judgment and possibly influence would have meant that the media conference would have gone slightly differently. As we know, that was part of the penalty and the severity of the penalty, was to some extent related or at least was consequential in terms of how that was handled - not telling the truth, or not telling the whole truth." If his recollection is accurate (that he watched till the end of play and then switched off), then his judgement must indeed be called into question. It is inconceivable that a CEO who had just seen the biggest scandal in his career (and there have been a few!) would go to bed and not stay awake till the press conference, let alone be working the phones like crazy, trying desperately to stem the bleeding.

Blaming the opposition
Later in the interview, he tries to explain what may have led to the players taking the extreme measure of cheating. "There were lots of other things going on, and some disgraceful behaviour during the Port Elizabeth Test, provocation by opposition fans but also administrators from the opposition team."

So the insinuation was that this was partly South Africa's fault? In the lead-up to Cape Town, does he concede that the behaviour of the Australian team may have played some small part in the tense and ugly atmosphere that prevailed? If not, then why bother with a Culture Review? Just place a blanket ban on sandpaper purchases and be done with it!

To reference opposition fans is an absolute joke to any Indian fan who have attended cricket matches in Australia recently. The behaviour, not just from drunken louts, in Australian cricket stadiums has been disgraceful. When David Warner incites the natives by referring to a Test match as akin to "war", Sutherland's marketing machine rubbed their hands in glee as they watched the turnstiles clicking over.

Poor Stuart Broad
When the Courier Mail, Brisbane's local tabloid, called for the crowd to verbally target Stuart Broad, I don't recall Sutherland describing the local fans as "provocative". What was Broad's alleged crime? He didn't walk when the umpire gave him not out? If that is the yardstick for cheating, most countries, especially Australia, would not be able to field a team! Anyone remember Andrew Symonds edging Ishant Sharma in Sydney in 2008 and then going on to score a big hundred?

Sutherland was CEO then too but may have switched off his TV just before that incident! India will arrive soon, to a cricket culture that is caught betwixt and between. If performances continue to slide, do not expect Cultural Reviews to dramatically change the spirit of the series. As much as people in India may be sceptical of the BCCI, the rank and file soldiers of the Australian cricket community have lost faith in the parent organisation to the point where they too may just switch off their TV. The lights may be on but nobody's home.

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