James Sutherland sheds light on decision behind Australia’s homework controversy

Image courtesy of: Herald Sun

Sutherland is taking all the necessary steps to ensure another incident like this never occurs again

Cricket Australia chief executive, James Sutherland, has finally broken his silence over the board’s highly controversial decision to axe four players midway through the recent four-Test series against India.

Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Johnson, James Pattinson and then Australia vice-captain Shane Watson were all axed for the third and crucial Test of the series in Mohali in March for not completing a homework assignment set by coach Mickey Arthur, which asked all members of the squad to list three ways in which they could improve their own performance and three ways in which the team could perform as more of a cohesive unit for the remainder of the Test series.

Cricket Australia were left red-faced and absolutely humiliated by the entire fiasco and Sutherland has vowed not to let another similar episode occur ever again.

“My starting point with all of that is personally I’m disappointed we got to that stage,” Sutherland said. “I now have a pretty in-depth understanding of where and how it got to there and I’m still disappointed that it happened in the circumstances when it got to there and how it got to there.

“I’m supportive of the decisions that were made at the time and I’m a really firm believer in the fact that those decisions will ultimately stand us in good stead as we build to sustained performance at the highest level. I think it’s pretty well understood internally what I think about it, and the need for us to ensure those things are dealt with better before they ever get to that stage.”

Sutherland revealed that he was hesitant about taking action against the players indicted, but noted that since relations within the team had started to become a little more frosty, he had no choice but to teach them a lesson about discipline.

“It would be dangerous to narrow it down to one or two things,” Sutherland said. “It was a culmination of a whole lot of things, and to pinpoint it as being communication of people not necessarily understanding where they were … yes that is one of the reasons no doubt. But there’s a whole lot of others as well I think.”

Since leadership issues have been a problem in recent times for Australia, Sutherland is keen on assigning more resources to educate younger players and make them understand where they stand in relation to their responsibilities and to the team as well.

“Clearly we want to be building or developing the best players and part of that is developing players who are not only capable in a cricketing sense,” Sutherland said. “They are strong of character, they’re highly resilient, they’re able to adapt, and they have all of these character traits. To some extent you’re born with those and to some extent they’re circumstantial according to your environment and also they can be developed.

“That’s part of our challenge as a sport in developing our best talent is to do that even better in this day and age, understanding the variability of cricket today, the need to adapt and the need to be resilient, to get through tough conditions in a foreign country you might never have visited before. All of those things are part of character.

“That comes back to our point about sending more younger players away for longer periods to learn what it’s like to try to fight through a six-week tour when you can’t make a run and fight your way through it. Phil Hughes in India, it wasn’t great to see him early on in the tour, but the way he fought through that tour of India I thought was fantastic, just the sort of stuff we want to see from our players when they’re down.”

Sutherland is also laying down plans to educate youngsters about the responsibilities that come with each of the three different formats and about putting international duty ahead of domestic Twenty2o tournaments around the world like the Indian Premier League (IPL).

“One of the things we will want to do over the next couple of years is identify and work with that talent at an even younger age than we have in the past,” Sutherland said. “We’ve tended to let the cream rise to the top in recent times, but perhaps we need to nurture those high potential players a little bit earlier, and develop their other character beyond their cricket abilities and prepare them for what’s next.

“It’s not a lesson out of India, it’s something we’ve been talking about for quite some time, certainly I’ve been speaking to Pat Howard about it ever since he started [in 2011]. We’ve been talking about nurturing our young, talented teenagers a little bit earlier than we have in the past. Some other sports do that very well and I’d like to see cricket doing a lot more of that in the next little while.”

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