Australian cricket is in a perilous situation. Not just because it’s captain, vice-captain and another player were suspended for sandpapering the ball (as well as possibly the most incompetent cover up since Watergate). Not just because it lost a test series at home to India for the first time in 71 years. But also because it seems to me that the Australian public no longer respect Cricket Australia as an organisation.
Even Cricket Australia describes its own work with a raised eyebrow.
There may have been a time when the players and general public trusted Cricket Australia less but I don’t remember it. Once upon a time Cricket Australia had such power it was able to make decisions it saw fit without serious public explanation. It could drop or retain a player and dismiss any public gripes as parochial nonsense. A selector could tell a man ‘I just think the other guy is better’ and that would be enough. At least until everyone was distracted by on-field matters.
It is increasingly obvious that this approach will no longer suffice. It seems to me that the public and the players simply no longer trust Cricket Australia, expressed either as an organisation or its manifestation in the decisions of the National Selection Panel (NSP).
And can you blame them? In recent days we’ve had four different players either dropped or not picked for national sides express their confusion at the decisions. Attempts by coach Justin Langer or NSP Chair Trevor Hohns to justify their choices have been met with at best confusion, and at worst ridicule. Matthew Wade was told he couldn’t be picked to bat in Australia’s top six unless he was batting in his state’s top four. Glenn Maxwell was told to rest of for an ‘A’ tour, then not picked. Nathan Coulter-Nile was dropped from the One Day International team because he was injured. Except he wasn’t.
The consequences is that every new recruit faces questioning of their legitimacy before they even grace the pitch. Marnus Labuschagne is hung, drawn and quartered before he can fail in the middle. Mitchell Marsh is not treated as a prospect, but rather as a lightening rod for every idiotic move the selectors make. It’s not fair that the players are being held accountable for the missteps of the selectors, and it further strains the relationship between the the groups.
Faced with questioning from the media, the players and the general public, the selectors have been flustered, vacillating between anger at being questioned and explanations that didn’t stand up to basic scrutiny. Former selector Mark Waugh told players to harden up and make runs. It took four tests and a public outcry for that demand to have any meaning, and even then it was piecemeal.
When there was a production line of talent the selectors and the organisation could brush of questions like this. At a time where the performance of the national side is so patchy, such explanations further alienate a player group and a public that already consider the organisation to be at best incompetent.
This is not a problem unique to Cricket Australia. Public and private organisations around the world are struggling to engage with the relevant constituents. It’s a truism that trust is at an all time low, and organisations can no longer rely on ‘we know better’ and expect the support of the public. This no doubt this is part of a wider societal fracture with the ruling class that it no longer believes has its best interests at heart, and has never been better places to express that, at least at an individual level.
The ‘societal’ trends are not sufficient to explain the predicament that Cricket Australia is in. There are ‘cricket’ specific issues that have contributed to this also. While for many they would point to sandpaper-gate, for the players (and myself) any trust for the organisation was destroyed by the scorched-earth approach of the Board, endorsed by former Chairman of the Board David Peever, to the most recent bout of bargaining. He resigned, but his approach broke the trust with the players that had extended nigh on thirty years. That the architect of the destruction, Kevin Roberts, earned a promotion for this reckless approach could hardly have mended the organisational wing’s relationship with the players.
It seems the best way back for CA and the NSP is to accept the public scrutiny and the advice it can bring. It needs to be accountable to the evidence at hand and explain how it weights this evidence. Statistics are not created equal, and discretion is the most important part of a selectors role. A more robust selection process in which is accountable and transparent about the decisions it makes, with the players as well as the public, will be an important step towards rebuilding trust.
To their credit, Hohns is at least trying to explain the process. The problem is that when the obvious inadequacies in this process is highlighted, it’s met with a deaf ear by the organisation. It’s time for Cricket Australia to accept that maybe they are not the sole source of truth.
Continuing on the current trajectory of hoping they can simply rebuff criticism with platitudes and retrofitted explanations will no longer work. If they don’t adjust their approach, the NSP will have to get used to be each decision being described as a shock.
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