When Wally Edwards first joined the Australian Cricket Board 19 years ago, its 14 directors squabbled frequently as representatives of their states, and were Balkanised even in their seating positions around the board table.
“It was completely compartmentalised,” Edwards said. “I can almost remember where everyone sat. And it was state versus state basically, and a matter of how much you can take off the table. My job as a West Australian delegate was to get as much cash as I could back to WA.
“It definitely wasn’t good for cricket when you look back on it. It was completely dysfunctional – it was hardly a board in that regard. You didn’t sit there and say ‘what’s best, let’s debate it and work out the best way forward’, it was more ‘we think they can operate on a $1 million less than that so we’ll all take a bit of money back’.
“We kept the squeeze on management, and if they came up with a good idea that cost money that would definitely be voted out!”
On Thursday at Cricket Australia’s AGM, Edwards signed off as chairman and left behind him a board of nine independent directors, chosen on basis of skills and compatibility to further the interests of Australian cricket in a unified manner. Edwards joined Sir Donald Bradman as the only chairmen to have played Test cricket, but no single figure in the history of the board has presided over more significant changes to the way the game is run.
The chief executive, James Sutherland, knows this better than anyone. He reflected on the hoops management once had to go through. “Under the previous governance model it was frustrating and difficult,” he said.
“The way I like to talk about it is when you had a proposal to put up it was always compromised by your thinking about how the voting would go, and who would like that and who would like this.
“Instead of putting the optimal recommendation, you would put a compromise recommendation that kept everyone happy. Even when it came to debate it would get further compromise. But it was a progression over time.”
In his farewell remarks, Edwards reserved a special tribute to the former Cricket Victoria chairman, Geoff Tamblyn, as a key figure in helping to usher through those reforms.
He also observed that his predecessor Jack Clarke had been the man to commission the governance review that resulted in change. Asked to pay tribute to Edwards, fellow board director Tony Harrison said his chairmanship meant that in Australian cricket “parochialism is not quite dead, but it’s terminally ill”.
Relations between board directors have improved notably, but so too has the link between the board and management. The independent director, Kevin Roberts, has stepped down to join CA’s management team, an unprecedented move that places him in line to succeed Sutherland whenever the CEO chooses to finish up.
CA’s balance sheet was shown to be in rare good health, not least as a result of a season that featured a Test tour by India and also the wildly successful 2015 World Cup, which Edwards had no little pride in declaring “the best ever” and featured 20 sellouts among its 49 matches.
Revenue for the year totalled Aus $380.9 million, resulting in a surplus of Aus $99 million for CA after its annual distribution to the six states. Of this, $60 million will be set aside for long-term, strategic investment. As the board’s CFO Kate Banozic put it, “there is a lot of money in the bank right now”.
Of course the cycle of global tours means there needs to be – this summer’s tourists New Zealand and West Indies will not turn in anything like the same cash as visits by India – and Edwards is hopeful that his legacy will feature better cricket played by more nations around the world to ensure the financial reliance on Indian tours is lessened. He remains defiant about ICC reforms that have been heavily criticised by the documentary ‘Death of a Gentleman.’
But as of Thursday night, such concerns are no longer those of Edwards, who noted the significance of the man replacing him. David Peever, the former managing director for Rio Tinto in Australia, will be the first CA chairman not to have risen through the ranks of state and national boards.
Due in large part to the CA board reforms of the past five years, Edwards was able to say of Peever that “success is assured, it’s just a matter of how much”.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.