The Longstaff re­view.

While cheat­ing play­ers were quickly sanc­tioned for what Cricket Aus­tralia’s Longstaff re­port damned as a win-at-all-costs men­tal­ity, the game’s ad­min­is­tra­tors have been slow to ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity.

The Saturday Paper - - Contents | The Week - Martin McKen­zie-Mur­ray

Seven months af­ter the in­sti­gat­ing fi­asco, the Longstaff re­port on the cul­ture of Aus­tralian cricket was re­leased this week. Its tim­ing was more in­ter­est­ing for the fact that it came just days af­ter Cricket Aus­tralia’s an­nual gen­eral meet­ing, dur­ing which its tac­itly con­demned chair­man, David Peever, was re-elected to an­other term. Yes: a land­mark re­port into the eth­i­cal health of cricket’s ad­min­is­tra­tion was re­leased only af­ter the re-elec­tion of its chair­man. A gen­er­ous per­son might as­sume be­nign co­in­ci­dence, but for the fact the re­port was com­pleted well be­fore the meet­ing.

“Ar­ro­gant and con­trol­ling”, the re­port read of Cricket Aus­tralia, and CA’s han­dling of its re­lease seemed to con­firm it. First was the cyn­i­cism of the re­port’s de­lay; sec­ond was the painful sophistry of CA’s re­sponses to it be­fore me­dia. Yet, the re­port was clear in its as­sess­ment of the no­to­ri­ous ball-tam­per­ing in­ci­dent in March this year at the New­lands Cricket Ground in South Africa, which re­sulted in Aus­tralia’s cap­tain, Steve Smith, vice­cap­tain, David Warner, and bats­man Cameron Ban­croft be­ing sus­pended from the game for nine to 12 months: “Be­low the sur­face [of the cheat­ing], there is a web of in­flu­ences – in­clud­ing of good in­ten­tions gone awry – that made ball-tam­per­ing more likely than not. Re­spon­si­bil­ity for that larger pic­ture lies with CA and not just the play­ers held di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for the ap­palling in­ci­dent at New­lands … The lead­er­ship of CA should also ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity for its in­ad­ver­tent (but fore­see­able) fail­ure to cre­ate and sup­port a cul­ture in which the will-to-win was bal­anced by an equal com­mit­ment to moral courage and eth­i­cal re­straint.”

Be­fore cam­eras this week, Peever sug­gested that the sum of his re­spon­si­bil­ity had been ac­quit­ted by merely com­mis­sion­ing the re­port – it didn’t ex­tend to hon­our­ing its find­ings with his res­ig­na­tion. In an in­ter­view with Leigh Sales on 7.30 on Mon­day, Peever dodged the ques­tion. Sales re­peated it: “Can I ask you to ad­dress the ques­tion – why shouldn’t the whole board and the se­nior ex­ec­u­tive re­sign?”

Peever re­sponded: “The work was never about want­ing to dwell on nega­tives. This is a very im­por­tant day for cricket and we are mov­ing for­ward from here.”

It’s hard to see the re­port as any­thing other than a long dwelling on nega­tives, but so be it. Peever’s in­tran­si­gence was, in a way, al­ready an­tic­i­pated by the re­port.

“It is the un­for­tu­nate lot of a leader that he or she may some­times be called upon to sac­ri­fice them­selves for the greater good,” it read. “Prin­ci­pled lead­er­ship of this kind is rare in con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety. Cricket has a chance to set a bet­ter ex­am­ple – and in do­ing so, to re­me­di­ate much of the harm caused by the in­ci­dent at New­lands. Whether or not it takes up this op­tion is a mat­ter for the in­di­vid­u­als con­cerned to de­ter­mine.”

Peever had ob­vi­ously de­ter­mined the mat­ter in his favour, al­beit by deny­ing the op­por­tu­nity for oth­ers to de­ter­mine it for them­selves. In Longstaff ’s re­view, sur­veys with ad­min­is­tra­tors, coaches and play­ers – past and present – re­ported ir­ri­ta­tion with a dou­ble stan­dard: play­ers were punished; their ad­min­is­tra­tors were coated in Te­flon.

On Tues­day’s 7.30, the plain­spo­ken for­mer Test cap­tain Ian

Chappell re­sponded. For a long time, Chappell has been aloof from the game’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, de­spite its over­tures, and it’s prob­a­bly one rea­son his voice re­mains so in­flu­en­tial. He quickly lo­cated the dou­ble stan­dard. “Well, didn’t he say the buck stops with me?” Chappell asked. “If the buck stops with him, he’d be gone, be­cause when it oc­curred, when the fi­asco hap­pened, I said if only three peo­ple – be­ing Smith, Warner and Ban­croft – if only three peo­ple get it in the neck then it’s a joke. Well, I think it’s now of­fi­cially a joke.”

The play­ers’ union – the Aus­tralian Crick­eters’ As­so­ci­a­tion – seized the op­por­tu­nity. In a state­ment, they said: “Given the new and damn­ing find­ings of CA’s own in­de­pen­dently com­mis­sioned Longstaff re­view that found CA was also causally re­spon­si­ble for the events in Cape Town, the ACA calls on the CA Board to lift the im­posed sus­pen­sions on the three play­ers, ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately.”

No one could ex­plain Peever’s un­usual sense of ex­cep­tion­al­ism — why he might stay, but the chief ex­ec­u­tive, coach and per­for­mance man­ager had left, or planned to. And no one could watch Peever’s shabby, fal­ter­ing eva­sions with­out the de­sire to cover one’s eyes. It was a friend­less week for the chair­man, and the pres­sure grew daily. By the time he had lost the con­fi­dence of three state as­so­ci­a­tions, Peever fi­nally saw what the rest of the coun­try did: that his po­si­tion was un­ten­able. On Thurs­day af­ter­noon he re­signed.

The Longstaff re­view was com­mis­sioned by Cricket Aus­tralia af­ter the ex­po­sure of the Aus­tralian Test team’s cheat­ing in South Africa. Per­haps it’s more ac­cu­rate to say that the re­view was com­mis­sioned af­ter the Aus­tralian pub­lic’s con­vul­sions on hear­ing news of that cheat­ing. Re­gard­less, within a bit­ter but dra­mat­i­cally con­tested series – one in which both sides were en­thu­si­as­ti­cally trans­gres­sive – the cheat­ing in the third Test was es­pe­cially gra­tu­itous. Dom­i­nated on the score­board, and in the hope of trans­form­ing an old and un­re­spon­sive ball into some­thing aero­dy­nam­i­cally sur­pris­ing, Cameron Ban­croft was com­mis­sioned with its un­law­ful, and com­i­cally in­dis­creet, doc­tor­ing with a strip of sand­pa­per.

What fol­lowed is well known, and for this we have the ground’s at­ten­tive cam­era op­er­a­tors to thank. In the footage, sus­pi­cious of­fi­cials call Ban­croft and cap­tain Steve Smith over for a chat.

Ban­croft des­per­ately drops his sand­pa­per down his pants, be­fore pre­sent­ing to the um­pires a sub­sti­tuted ob­ject of con­cern, a clean­ing cloth for his sun­glasses. It was a hope­less, ad­di­tional de­cep­tion.

If you’re not a cricket fan, it might be hard to ap­pre­ci­ate the sub­se­quent pub­lic feel­ing, or to find larger mean­ing from this spe­cific act. But the re­port did. “Some of cricket’s chal­lenges are due to struc­tural prob­lems (ac­cu­mu­la­tions of power in too few hands),” it read. “Some are the un­in­tended ef­fects of good in­ten­tions pur­sued with­out eth­i­cal re­straint.”

In 2011, Don Ar­gus, a for­mer chair­man of BHP Bil­li­ton and ex-chief ex­ec­u­tive of NAB, was com­mis­sioned to re­view the health of cricket af­ter a pre­cip­i­tous drop in Aus­tralia’s Test rank­ings. The reg­u­lar fan might have at­trib­uted this to the re­tire­ment of a rare and stu­pen­dous con­cen­tra­tion of tal­ent, but ad­min­is­tra­tors and tal­ent hounds are not paid for fa­tal­ism. Their ques­tion is: How do we lo­cate, cul­ti­vate and com­mod­ify tal­ent?

The Ar­gus re­view, or what it be­gat, is crit­i­cised by the Longstaff re­view – per­haps a lit­tle se­lec­tively. But a res­o­nant note is struck when Longstaff iso­lates its pre­de­ces­sor’s un­qual­i­fied im­po­si­tion of cor­po­rate prac­tice on our na­tional sport. “Ar­gus then went on to rec­om­mend an ap­proach to per­for­mance that is based on es­tab­lished busi­ness prac­tices. This ap­proach was not qual­i­fied – im­ply­ing that what is ap­pro­pri­ate for ‘busi­ness’ is ap­pro­pri­ate for sport,” the Longstaff re­port reads. “One ex­am­ple of this con­nec­tion can be seen in clause 2.2.4 of the Ar­gus Re­port that rec­om­mends that play­ers’ pay be linked to ‘ab­so­lute per­for­mance’, in­clud­ing world rank­ings, match wins, series wins, etc. … As the Hayne Royal Com­mis­sion into Bank­ing and Fi­nance has shown so clearly, the re­mu­ner­a­tion poli­cies of busi­ness have been no­to­ri­ously ef­fec­tive in driv­ing a ‘win at all costs’ per­for­mance cul­ture that has seen fees levied from dead peo­ple and for ser­vices never pro­vided. That a fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion ‘robbed the dead’ is as un­think­able as an Aus­tralian cricket player tak­ing sand­pa­per onto the field of play – and has prompted a sim­i­lar re­sponse from the Aus­tralian pub­lic.”

What­ever it takes. Head­but­ting the line. The Aus­tralian way. There were many clichés that both flat­ter­ingly de­scribed and helped de­fend ex­treme boor­ish­ness. Coach Dar­ren Lehmann – who ex­horted play­ers to join “The Aus­tralian Way”, an ap­proach that em­pha­sised ag­gres­sion – also en­cour­aged ob­nox­ious, bound­ary-nudg­ing be­hav­iour.

But not all play­ers were com­fort­able sig­na­to­ries to the Aus­tralian way. The Longstaff re­view in­ter­est­ingly ob­serves that: “In the worst cases, play­ers are called upon to ‘play the mon­grel’. Some play­ers may have a nat­u­ral affin­ity for play­ing such a role. How­ever, the cost of play­ing such a role is that they risk be­com­ing such a per­son.”

One might sug­gest Aus­tralia’s most suc­cess­ful off-spin­ner, Nathan Lyon, as one of the more re­luc­tant ac­tors. Hith­erto unas­sum­ing, but won­der­fully skilled, last year, just days from the start of the Ashes series, a tru­cu­lent Lyon fronted the me­dia and spoke of English scars, fear and trauma. “Could we end some ca­reers?” he asked. “I hope so.”

It felt in­con­gru­ous, to say the least. The team’s psy­chol­o­gist is bet­ter placed to an­swer this, but it’s doubt­ful that

Lyon’s gift might be im­proved with this late as­sump­tion of false bravado.

Masks are a fea­ture of the re­port. And the masks are mul­ti­ple. There’s the mask­ing of ad­min­is­tra­tive fail­ure with prom­ises of more ad­min­is­tra­tion. On the field, there’s the mask­ing of me­di­ocrity with the­atri­cal ag­gres­sion. In the days fol­low­ing the sand­pa­per scan­dal, in the emo­tional me­dia con­fer­ences of the con­demned three, an­other mask slipped: these weren’t tough men, but weep­ing, cod­dled boys.

The Longstaff re­port con­sid­ers the bruis­ing con­se­quences of liv­ing in­side a “gilded bub­ble”, and, to be sure, to lis­ten to Smith’s last press con­fer­ence as cap­tain was to watch a man stu­pen­dously obliv­i­ous to the trou­ble he was in. “There is a broad con­sen­sus that elite, male play­ers oc­cupy a ‘gilded bub­ble’,” the re­port reads, “blessed with wealth and priv­i­lege and cursed with long pe­ri­ods of ab­sence from loved ones, iso­la­tion from the rhythms of or­di­nary life and ex­po­sure to cut-throat com­pe­ti­tion which is un­for­giv­ing of poor per­for­mance and that makes lit­tle al­lowance for in­di­vid­u­al­ity un­less it serves the task of win­ning.”

This en­vi­ron­ment does not make for well-rounded men. Too of­ten, it pro­duces cal­low, obliv­i­ous and self-ob­sessed ones. In part, the re­port says, the New­lands de­ba­cle was a fail­ure of emo­tional ma­tu­rity.

This week, David Peever used the word “con­fronting” to de­scribe the re­port. It’s a mus­cu­lar word. Used once, it might have spo­ken to the painful depths Peever plumbed while read­ing it. But af­ter its 30th use on Mon­day, the word was thor­oughly de­nuded of its power. That’s be­cause the word emerged from a mar­ket­ing con­fer­ence. It was a word that pre­tended to feel­ings, but was de­ployed as a shield from them. The fix was in. And if that wasn’t al­ready ob­vi­ous from the tim­ing of the re­port’s re­lease, it should have been from the ro­botic bleeps of con­tri­tion.

Peever’s des­per­a­tion and obliv­i­ous­ness this week – not un­like Steve Smith’s in March – was just the lat­est in­dig­nity to be vis­ited upon our game.

And it was un­nec­es­sary. The re­port was a death blow to the chair­man, de­spite the cyn­i­cal machi­na­tions, and he should have grace­fully ac­knowl­edged the fact. In­stead, he raged against the dy­ing of the light – con­firm­ing, if any­one needed con­fir­ma­tion, the same de­struc­tive ar­ro­gance ex­posed by the re­port. •

Cricket Aus­tralia’s out­go­ing chair­manDavid Peever at a press con­fer­ence in Mel­bourne early this week.

MARTIN McKENZIEMURRAY is The Satur­day Pa­per’s chief cor­re­spon­dent.

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