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Dust settles as MOU agreement finalised

James Sutherland reflects on the bitter dispute and how quickly Australian cricket has moved on, as well as addressing his own future

Three weeks after peace was finally proclaimed in the at-times vituperative and very public dispute between Cricket Australia and the nation's professional players, the extensive details of a new Memorandum of Understanding have been finalised with not so much as a note of fanfare.

For CA's Chief Executive James Sutherland, who increasingly became a lightning rod for criticism of the manner in which the adversarial 10-month process played out, that crashing silence speaks volumes for the public's propensity to move quickly on from flashpoints once normal transmission is resumed.

And Sutherland, who today indicated his plans to continue in the role he's held since 2001 for at least "the next few years", does not believe the game's brand sustained enduring damage from the protracted spat during which Australia's top players fell out of contract and a scheduled tour to South Africa was boycotted.

"We're very comfortable with where it's all landed, and having the level of certainty that's needed to proceed with plans for this summer," Sutherland told cricket.com.au today.

"Even looking further ahead, it's amazing how something like this can be all-consuming for a period of time but then, once it's done, everyone moves on very quickly and is focused on the task at hand.

"Whether it's players involved in a Test series in Bangladesh, or on the management and operational side where it's preparation for a big summer of cricket and the Ashes.

"We haven't had a formal post-mortem or review on that, but suffice to say our Board was very much in touch with the to-ing and fro-ing of the negotiations all the way through, and understanding of how it unfolded and where we got to.

"We've only just signed off on the long-form agreement, but over the next couple of months we'll have a closer look at learnings that can be applied onto the future."

When the heads of agreement for a new five-year MOU was announced last month, it was widely reported as a resounding win for the players and their union, the Australian Cricketers' Association, who had strongly opposed any change to the existing revenue-sharing model under which players were paid.

But Sutherland pointed to the landmark agreement that sees Australia's foremost women's cricketers included in the MOU for the first time, on contracts that provide gender equity, as a significant outcome along with changes that delivered a 'modernised' revenue share model.

"We haven't got much credit for the fact that the women's side of things was all our proposal, basically in its entirety our proposal was accepted and adopted and it's a great thing for women's sport in Australia and particularly for cricket to be leading the way there," he said.

"From our perspective, there are also changes in the (player payment) model that we're very comfortable with and very pleased with, which allow us to prepare for this next strategy cycle and to invest in the game.

"There's an alternative (revenue share) model or a hybrid that we've landed on, but I think it’s too early to say how well that works and let's see how the next five years unfold and what the levels of revenue are.

"Hopefully they continue to increase which means everyone will be a winner – grassroots cricket will be a winner for some of the investment that comes back through the Grassroots Cricket Fund, but also players will be a winner as revenue rises as well."

In the wake of the historic Test defeat suffered by Australia's men's team at the hands of Bangladesh last week, social media was awash with scathing critiques of the players with many of those making pointed reference to the recently concluded pay dispute.

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However, Sutherland believes that much like the working relationship between CA and the ACA – whose respective staff are closely involved in numerous preparations for the coming summer – that apparent animosity will diminish over coming weeks and months.

He said some of the ill-feeling was a by-product of the unprecedented public nature of the negotiations surrounding the details of a new MOU, the first such agreement to be struck against a backdrop of widespread social media engagement by players, commentators and fans.

"A lot of it played out in the media which can give rise to perceptions about its adversarial nature," Sutherland said.

"To some extent it's an important, landmark negotiation that comes around every five years or so and it's an opportunity for both side to address aspects they've been dwelling on over time and would like to see different.

"As you seek change, that become complex and difficult and is elevated into the public domain, and that can amplify around perceptions around its adversarial nature.

"But at the same time things progress very quickly and both parties are already working in an operational environment ensuring we all do the right things to support the players and support the game to grow.

"I think it will wash through pretty quickly.

Sutherland joined the Test squad for a training session in Bangladesh // Getty
Sutherland joined the Test squad for a training session in Bangladesh // Getty

"In the professional age of sport there's an element of inevitability around players' performances being exposed to reflections on how they're paid.

"And the Australian players deserve to be paid very well, they lead the game, they put on the show and they are under extreme pressure in a difficult environment.

"We're in the business of supporting them and helping them to win, and rise up the rankings."

Sutherland was less forthcoming on his own future at the helm of CA, which was questioned a number of times throughout the MOU negotiations that were handled principally on the administration's behalf by Executive General Manager of Strategy, Kevin Roberts.

Sutherland would not be drawn on how much longer he envisages himself in a role that he has now held for more than 16 years, nor whether he expected to be involved in negotiations for the next MOU that is scheduled to come into effect from 2022.

But he indicated that his immediate focus was CA's new five-year strategy that was formally launched in Melbourne today, and that he was looking forward to being involved in implementing the initiatives outlined in that document that will be rolled out over coming years.

He is also enthused by the challenges Australia has been issued as host of the ICC's World T20 tournaments in 2020, in which the men's and women's events will – for the first time – be played as separate, stand-alone competitions.

And which Sutherland believes will be the biggest sporting spectacle Australia has staged since the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

"I subscribe to the theory that there's always more to do and more to achieve," Sutherland said when asked if he agreed with the oft-peddled view that Chief Executives maintain a finite shelf life.

"There's nothing really to talk about there (in regards to his ongoing tenure) other than to focus on what's ahead.

Cricket's strategic aims for the 2017-22 period

"We've launched a new strategy and that's something that I've been integrally involved in terms of the planning, and I'm really excited about the opportunities to have a significant impact in that.

"We've had a really strong last five years in terms of growth in the game, and that's partly because as an organisation we have a very strong and clear focus on strategy.

"And as the new strategy comes around and we set our sights on what we want to achieve in the next period, I can't help but be excited about the opportunity to be a part of that over the next few years.

"That (next MOU process) is a long way off, but in the short-term the focus is more on this strategy, we've got media rights negotiations coming up and somewhere in this cycle we've got a World T20 event which will be a really important milestone in the history of the game here.

"It will be the first time we've hosted a T20 global event, but I also believe that it will be as big a sporting event as has been held here, certainly in the last couple of decades.

"It's going to be absolutely huge and to have separated the men's and women's events provides us with a great platform to promote the T20 game but also promote women's sport as well."