The recent press conference given by Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland demonstrates the openness and the refreshingly candid attitude of the Board. He does not sidestep questions, but tries to answer them straight from the heart. The contrast with BCCI is very striking, writes Arunabha Sengupta
In the modern age, the image of sports perhaps invokes corporate deals and currency notes more than the green expanse of outfields where skilful athletes ply their trade – especially in the subcontinent.
The image of the healthy, skilled, open-minded, cheerful youthfulness that sports was supposed to cultivate in its primal form has perhaps become concealed by those pot-bellied, grumpy administrators counting every penny with their grubby hands – dominating the sports pages by making more headlines than the performers sweating out on the field.
However, when we look at the video of the interview of Cricket Australia (CA) CEO James Sutherland, we are pleasantly surprised to find that the spirit and concept of sports in its true form continue to reign at least in some major sporting bodies. It makes us wonder if this, in fact, is one of the reasons for the fortunes of the Australian and Indian cricket tracing significantly different paths in their respective histories.
Open and shut case – contrasting attitudes of two boards
The press conference, in fact, would have come across as hugely antithetical to Indian journalists used to the Rajiv Shuklas and N. Srinivasans humming and hawing their way through visibly painful moments, faces steadfastly unsmiling, the strain of unwelcome interaction manifesting on the foreheads in severe frowns, each word weighed with surreptitious care, the minds overworked in trying to determine just how much to divulge without the information in any way coming back to bite them in the leg.
To start with, the CEO of CA had called the press conference himself, without being prompted by earth-shattering events on the field or in the boardroom, the sacking of big names or a break up with the sponsors. By Sutherland’s own admission, the intention was to have a chat and answer whatever questions the media might have had. The approach was refreshing and candid, the focus unwaveringly on communication and transparency – facets that evidently CA takes very seriously in every respect.
When asked questions which bordered on the tricky, which in the Indian context would have been deemed controversial, Sutherland hardly looked uncomfortable. Be it Brad Haddin’s omission from the team or Ricky Ponting being made the temporary captain in Michael Clarke’s absence, the responses were never guarded, but seemed to be arrived at with spontaneity, and appeared to be genuine and straight from the heart. There was a conspicuous absence of efforts to sweep such queries under the carpet, or of making sure that information shared was on a strict need to know basis.
That clarity in communication to the players, press and public is taken very seriously by CA was pretty evident when Sutherland stressed that something had clearly gone awry in the national selector panel’s communication with the public with regard to Brad Haddin's exclusion. He himself put an end to the guesswork by clarifying that the out of form wicketkeeper had been dropped from the team and not rested, and conceded that there should be more clear communication in these matters.
On the topic of Ricky Ponting taking over the captaincy temporarily, the CEO himself admitted that it did seem like a blast from the past, but added that it was an appropriate decision given the circumstances.
In sharp contrast, in the case of Eric Simons , the general perception was that the Indian bowling coach had been sacked. However, Simons himself claimed after a few days that he was not sacked wasn't sacked by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), but had not sought an extension. There was no comment from the BCCI in this matter, regardless of the importance of the issue and the controversies needlessly generated in its wake.
Unlike CA, the BCCI has never believed in clarity or keeping the media informed in a way that a progressive and responsible governing body in the modern world should.
What remains a question, however, is whether such a change of attitude on the part of the BCCI will also make the press conferences in India similarly disciplined and dignified and not the rowdy melee that we generally see in the country, especially among those armed with television cameras. But, that is one complicated conjecture on top of another.
The difference in the manner of responses can perhaps be extrapolated from the backgrounds of the men who speak for the respective boards. While the Shuklas and Sharad Pawars have entered the field of play only by firmly putting on their administrative hats, N. Srinivasan reportedly has indulged in a game of golf now and then. Sutherland on the other hand, had been a medium-pacer for Victoria who played in the Sheffield Shield, and dismissed a few big names including Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, Stuart Law and Justin Langer.
That he had a good amount of quality match time behind him was evident from the way he summed up the career of Andrew Symonds, with a mix of memorable feats and his appeal as a sportsperson. It is extremely rare for a BCCI official to quote scores and records of individual cricketers on the fly. Surely, this speaks volumes about the need for cricketing pedigree in men who govern the game in the country.
There was also the enormous difference of attitude on view when Sutherland made it eminently obvious that the paying public was very important to CA and the game of cricket. This is in stark contrast to the BCCI who have for long short changed the fans.
Finally, there was the welcome self-effacing admission that even as he held the reins of the game, his work was constantly reviewed. There were defined performance indicators against which he was appraised and definite goals he had to strive for. It is evident that CA has taken pains to identify the right people to run the game while having a rigorous process in place to ensure that the men at the top remain accountable and driven towards tangible and defined objectives.
This will also come as a huge surprise to the BCCI who have developed a completely different concept of governance; in whose world, administrative power is synonymous with autocratic omnipotence and god-like authority powered by financial engine which places them beyond the reach of questions, scrutiny and evaluation.
(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)