Qantas Tour of South Africa

Cape Town yields map for culture change

The city in which Australian cricket hit rock bottom was the venue of another catalyst for change which Australia could do worse than mirror

Andrew Ramsey

28 March 2018, 11:42 PM AEST

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and is the author of The Wrong Line.

It's an irony almost poetically perverse that the template for any cultural overhaul of Australia's damaged Test cricket outfit might have been forged within a calamity that played out at Newlands, albeit years earlier.

Cricket Australia Chief Executive James Sutherland announced today that, in addition to the removal of three players from the current touring party with further sanctions still pending, a deeper review of the "culture and conduct" of the nation's professional teams will be launched.

As Sutherland noted in his sombre media conference in Johannesburg, the term of reference for that inquiry is to find a means by which supporters of Australian cricket and the wider community can effectively refresh their vows of commitment to a sport that – even according to one of its most decorated servants – has been losing its spark.

Allan Border, whose unsurpassed stint as Australia Test captain was born from an earlier crisis and who subsequently served as national selector and CA board member, summed up the sentiment that the coming review aims to tackle.

"The Australian cricket team itself is not a popular cricket team, and a lot of their antics on the field have upset a lot of people," Border told Fox Sport News from his vantage point as a television commentator currently in South Africa where that scorn has been most publicly visible.

While Sutherland explained that details of how that process – which will canvass input from "relevant experts" – unfolds will be revealed in coming weeks, one of its functions will be to ascertain how the culture and conduct of Test cricket's historically most successful team has reached the point where it demands external audit.

Its other challenge will be to provide CA's Board and its executive administrators with recommendations on changes that need implementing, and the most effective means of achieving them.

The sanctions will be significant: Sutherland

And that's where a close study of that national embarrassment that played out under the brooding glare of Table Mountain might prove instructive.

Not the ball tampering bombshell that created the fragments now being trawled through; not even the significantly less crisis-worthy day in 2011 when the Test team was rolled for 47 and Australia's cricket stocks traded low on both sides of the Indian Ocean.

Indeed, this potentially relevant event had nothing to do with Australia save for the satisfaction it brought the nation to see New Zealand's finest arrive at Newlands and get skittled for two runs fewer than their bigger, brasher neighbour had scrambled 14 months earlier.

That was Brendon McCullum's first day as his country's Test captain and, having been party to several on-field unpleasantries involving his Black Caps team in the years prior, the once combative keeper-batsman decided the time for cultural re-calibration had arrived.

The moment NZ turned their fortunes around

"It wasn't our finest moment (the Cape Town defeat) but what it did do was it allowed us to strip things back and during that time we just had to be pretty honest and pretty brutal with ourselves," McCullum told during New Zealand's 2015 Test tour of Australia.

"And I think the perception of us (among the New Zealand and broader cricket public) and the perception that we had of ourselves was quite different. We had to try and re-align those a little bit more, and we had to be a bit honest with ourselves as well.

"That we weren't performing as well as what we should, that we had no real soul about our team. We weren't purposeful in our time that we had as cricketers and we needed to make some changes.


McCullum bowled; NZ were 45 all out in 2013 // Getty
McCullum bowled; NZ were 45 all out // Getty


"And that's what we've tried to do over the last little while and I think now we've got a group of guys that I would happily introduce to anyone in the world. They are great ambassadors for this team and our country, and they play for the right reasons.

"They play with a smile on their face, they are very humble, they are very respectful and to add to that they are bloody good cricketers."

McCullum might have finished his 31-match tenure as skipper later that summer with a winning ratio of 35 per cent – marginally better than Border's across his 93 games in charge – but his impact in cricket's smallest Test nation where the game remains of secondary importance behind rugby lingers today.

The Black Caps this week completed only their second innings-plus defeat of England in almost 90 years, and they currently sit fourth on the ICC Test rankings.

It led ex-England captain Michael Vaughan to observe that all competing nations around the cricket world – including teams of which he was part – should aim to emulate New Zealand in the values they portray in the heat of battle.

Should they defeat England in the second Test that begins at Christchurch on Friday, and if a re-cast Australia stumbles to a 1-3 series loss to the Proteas after the final Test at Wanderers starting the same day, the Black Caps will move ahead of their trans-Tasman rivals on that rankings ladder.

The fact that claiming the number one berth in all formats of the game – Test, ODIs and T20 Internationals – has been enshrined as a key performance metric upon which their productivity is evaluated might also come under scrutiny as part of the review.

At his media conference overnight, Sutherland cited the comments of his chief executive counterpart at the ICC, David Richardson, who called on the game's member countries to take greater responsibility for their teams' conduct.

And added that while on-field success was clearly important to those competing in a professional global sport, it should not be pursued "at the expense of the spirit of the game which is intrinsic and precious to the sport of cricket".

Players past and present react to tampering saga

"I agree completely with the ICC that member countries and member boards, including Cricket Australia, need to define more clearly what is expected of players and then enforce the standards in a consistent fashion," Sutherland said in reiterating Richardson's sentiments.

"And I agree all member countries, including Australia, need to show more accountability for their team's conduct. Winning is important, but not at the expense of the laws and spirit of the game."

Sutherland signalled that principal among CA's to-do list as they look to rebuild reputation and public faith in the shadow of the ball-tampering controversy that has cost captain Steve Smith, his deputy David Warner and rookie opener Cameron Bancroft their places in the Test XI is to restore pride in Australia's cricket team.

Having revealed that "all necessary steps" will be followed to realise that ambition, the impending review is likely to seek input from those who have helped shape and promote the culture that will be subject to scrutiny.

Smith banned, Bancroft fined in ICC sanctions

A process that, as former Test batter Michael Hussey alluded to in a heartfelt reflection published today, might yield the sort of enduring change that can't be simply bolted-on retrospectively or cosmetically.

As one of McCullum's favoured phrases explains, "it has to be authentic, and it develops organically".

In his column for the Players Voice website, Hussey wrote: "The next few days, weeks and months will be difficult for Australian cricket. Jobs might be lost and heavy sanctions handed down. But this period will also present the team with a chance to reset. Our values. Our team culture. Our true north.

ICC charge too lenient: Smith

"We can reconnect with the spirit Australian teams have played with in the past, a spirit that was once a source of great pride among our fellow countrymen and respect among opposing teams around the world.

"We played hard, certainly, but also positively and fairly.

"I'll share with you something I have learned through the years. When you've finished playing, no one remembers you for the runs you scored, the wickets you took or the wins and losses you had along the way.

"They remember how you played."

Qantas tour of South Africa

South Africa squad: Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Dean Elgar, Heinrich Klaasen, Quinton de Kock, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Duanne Olivier, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, AB de Villiers.

Australia squad: Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Tim Paine, Matt Renshaw, Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Mitchell Starc.

Warm-up match: Australia beat South Africa A by five wickets. Report, highlights

First Test Australia won by 118 runs. Scorecard

Second Test South Africa won by six wickets. Scorecard

Third Test South Africa won by 322 runs. Scorecard

Fourth Test Wanderers, Johannesburg, March 30-April 3. Live coverage