MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Long-serving Cricket Australia boss James Sutherland said on Wednesday he would step down as chief executive next year but denied the ball-tampering scandal had played a part in the decision.
The 52-year-old, who took up the role in 2001, resigns amid cultural reviews into the cricket board and the national team in the wake of the Cape Town scandal which shocked the sports-mad nation and caused the loss of a key sponsor.
Sutherland’s stewardship had also come under the microscope as Australia look to rebuild under a new captain and coach, but the former Victoria state cricketer said he had been thinking about moving on for a while.
“It certainly was a big issue at the time,” Sutherland said of the scandal at a news conference.
“It hasn’t had a bearing on my decision, I guess.
“(CA chairman) David (Peever) and I have actually been talking about this for two years ... It just feels like a good time for me to hand over the reins in an orderly fashion to my successor.”
Speaking at Melbourne’s Junction Oval, where he made his first class debut for Victoria in 1991, Sutherland said he would remain in place during a 12-month handover as CA looks for his successor.
The announcement comes soon after the resignation of coach Darren Lehmann and CA integrity chief Iain Roy, who oversaw the board’s investigation into the ball-tampering affair.
A former pace bowler, Sutherland has helped turn the game into a commercial powerhouse in Australia’s crowded sports market, striking lucrative broadcast deals and ushering in the now successful Twenty20 ‘Big Bash’ league in 2011.
CA’s swelling coffers have made the country’s elite among the world’s best-paid cricketers, but relations with the players have been often been strained through his tenure.
They hit a low point during last year’s acrimonious pay dispute in which CA sought to end a 20-year revenue-share model with the players but was soundly defeated.
Sutherland, who delegated negotiations to a deputy in Kevin Roberts, was roundly criticised for being absent from the talks until the wrangling threatened to scupper a tour to India.
He has also been faulted for having a tin ear to public expectations of the men’s cricket team, appearing reluctant to rein in a side with a reputation for boorish on-field conduct.
A number of pundits put the Cape Town scandal at his door, saying the governing body’s failure to set standards had ultimately emboldened players to violate the rules.
Sutherland and chairman Peever said the change was more a matter of timing, however, with a new six-year broadcast deal worth A$1.2 billion ($935 million) agreed in April and work on the ICC’s Future Tours Programme all but put to bed.
With former captain Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft suspended for their parts in the Cape Town scandal, Sutherland said he hoped his successor would focus on growing participation in a game that suffered huge reputational damage.
“It’s my underlying belief, the most important thing we do as sports administrators ... is inspire the next generation to love cricket. Boys and girls. It’s all about that,” he said.
“And whilst that doesn’t necessarily get the publicity that it deserves, the facts of the matter are that kids today, the primary school kids today, boys and girls, are not getting bats and balls in their hands.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom, editing by Rory Carroll and Nick Mulvenney