SYDNEY – Departing Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland admits he had a “serious WTF moment” on learning of the ball-tampering scandal this year, and believes he could have mitigated the fall-out if he had intervened earlier.
Sutherland, who stepped down on Thursday after 17 years in charge, was watching the third Test in South Africa at home in Melbourne but switched off before the now infamous sandpaper incident.
It showed Cameron Bancroft attempting to alter the ball with a piece of yellow sandpaper, with vice-captain David Warner blamed as the instigator.
Sutherland also missed the ensuing press conference in Cape Town, where captain Steve Smith and others attempted to cover up the truth.
“At a guess it would’ve been about midnight I suppose (that he turned off the TV) but, yeah, I wish I was watching, absolutely,” he told ESPNcricinfo in an interview.
“It was a serious WTF moment there. I’d like to think that my judgement and possibly influence would have meant that the media conference would have gone slightly differently.
“As we know, that was part of the penalty, and the severity of the penalty was to some extent related or at least was consequential in terms of how that was handled – not telling the truth, or not telling the whole truth.”
Smith and his deputy Warner were sent home in disgrace and subsequently banned from international and state cricket for a year.
Bancroft, who was also banished, was handed a nine-month penalty.
Then-coach Darren Lehmann resigned and Sutherland eventually choose to walk after coming under sustained pressure.
The series had already been overshadowed by confrontations on and off the field, including Warner’s bust-up in a stairwell with South Africa’s Quinton de Kock.
Sutherland, who admitted there were warning signs, claimed he voiced his concerns, but they went unheeded.
“I was heartbroken by the events that happened, and I think that in some ways I totally understand that in the heat of battle things can boil over and go awry, and there can be regrettable incidents,” he said.
“Part of the extent of my disappointment around Cape Town is heightened by what happened earlier in the series, and my feeling that there were warning signals.
“There were lots of other things going on, and some disgraceful behaviour during the Port Elizabeth Test, provocation by opposition fans, but also administrators from the opposition team.”
Sutherland, who has been replaced by internal candidate Kevin Roberts, won plaudits during his long reign for negotiating a lucrative new television rights deal and popularising the Big Bash League, day-night Tests and women’s cricket.
But questions were raised about a deterioration of the players’ sportsmanship under his rule.
He said lessons had been learned from the overwhelming public backlash to the Cape Town scandal.
“It’s a reminder to everyone as to how important cricket is... and the pedestal on which the Australian cricket team is held and the expectations that come with being an Australian cricketer,” he said.
Two reviews prompted by the incident – one focusing on the culture within Cricket Australia and the other into the team – are due to be released on Monday.