Cricket Australia has not had a good run with its choice of CEOs in recent times.
Remember James Sutherland, who probably stayed on a few years too long? He presided over the fallout from the ball-tampering incident in 2018 in South Africa which did enormous damage to the game in Australia.
Prior to that he was a key player (or non-player) in the negotiations around a collective bargaining agreement that saw one Australia A tour cancelled, another to Bangladesh almost cancelled and all manner of public threats from both players and management.
Kevin Roberts took over the reins but was forced to resign in 2020 in large part due to his management of CA’s finances in the wake of COVID – he wanted to dismiss 80 per cent of the staff which, not surprisingly, didn’t play well in the media.
Incumbent Nick Hockley then took over the role. Upon hearing of his appointment, Malcolm Speed said his job would be like that of a rookie spinner on debut taking on Virat Kohli.
Speed was obviously suggesting Hockley was going to face some tough challenges, but there’s no way either could have envisaged the mess that Hockley has helped create over the past six months, culminating in the resignation of Justin Langer as Australian coach.
The situation with the national coach started roughly this time last year, following a poor result against the touring Indian team. Players were asked to provide feedback on a range of issues, and Justin Langer’s coaching style was front and centre, at least from a media perspective.
This appeared to have been managed, at least by Langer, who made the commitment to change. Presumably he did so successfully given nothing more was said by either him or CA.
As we’ve recently found out, part of that change was for Langer to adopt less of a hands-on approach to his role, giving more responsibility to his assistants, but this seems to have been exactly the catalyst Cricket Australia needed to force his removal.
Hockley gave a press conference in which he spoke about the team “evolving to the next phase of a more shared leadership model”. He also talked about moving to the “next phase” and “a new phase”, but he gave no indication what these phases were, just that they were justifications for offering Langer only a six-month extension.
In effect they were saying one of two things to Langer: either that they were going to use the next ten months as a probation period to see if he warranted a longer contract or that they didn’t believe he had the required skill set to match the shared leadership model and were going to use the next ten months to prove it.
This is straight after Langer as head coach had a key role to play in the recent Ashes and World Cup successes. Forget about who Cricket Australia decided was more responsible for these efforts; Langer as head coach was the ultimate decision-maker when it came to support staff. To use an Americanism, the buck stopped with him.
The contract extension conversations with Langer were always going to be tough given these successes, so asking an administrator to take on a person famous for being pugnacious and passionate was just asking for trouble, and so it proved.
One outcome is the almost unanimous condemnation about how this ‘process’ was handled, and that has to fall squarely on the shoulders of Nick Hockley.
I’m yet to see a single positive comment from anyone supporting how Hockley managed these negotiations, but I’ve seen dozens of scathing attacks.
Two that stood out for me were from Mitchell Johnson and Mickey Arthur.
Johnson wrote on Instagram: “It‘s very disappointing to watch the treatment of one of the very best humans in cricket, on & off the field. Makes you wonder how the future looks & also makes you wonder why would you want to coach the Australian cricket team.”
Arthur tweeted: “Disgraceful way to treat a coach… offering 6 months is a slap in the face! Either give him a proper extension or move on, by offering 6 months you effectively say you don’t want him but don’t have the balls to fire the bullet!”
Disgraceful way to treat a coach… offering 6 months is a slap in the face!
Either give him a proper extension or move on, by offering 6 months you effectively say you don't want him but don't have the balls to fire the bullet! #coachesunion https://t.co/UjB3aykvxr
— Mickey Arthur (@Mickeyarthurcr1) February 5, 2022
These comments about a board unanimous in their support for Hockley’s shared leadership model have created huge problems moving forward.
The players who were disaffected by Langer have had a huge win and in effect CA, through Hockley, has empowered them to run the game not only on the field but off it as well. How will that play out when the next round of collective bargaining happens in the not too distant future?
And if Arthur’s right and Hockley didn’t “have the balls to fire the bullet”, how’s he going to go against the players and the Australian Cricketers Association when the negotiations get tough?
As Johnson said, who’d want to be the head coach, especially in a period of change to a nebulous shared leadership model? Hockley has come up with what appears to be a thought bubble, but now that it’s out in the public domain, he has to make sure it works.
To cap things off, even if the board wanted to move on from Hockley because of his handling of this saga, they couldn’t do so now, especially if they were unanimous in their support. That would be tantamount to saying Langer was correct in his demands for a longer contract.
Justin Langer could rightly say he’s left Australian cricket in a much better position than he found it in, but his efforts have been completely spoiled by some very poor people management.
A situation that should have been handled delicately and discretely has instead been managed almost openly thanks to all the media leaks. It has completely lacked finesse.
At best Nick Hockley’s position ought to be tenuous. His future’s tied to who is chosen as the next head coach, their ability to apply his shared leadership model and the results Australia obtain over the next ten months, the same period of time as Langer would have had.
If the Test team don’t win the away series in Pakistan and Sri Lanka and at least make the final of the T20 World Cup, I can’t see how he could keep his job – and the same goes for the board that backed him.