By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Kevin Roberts, the face of Cricket Australia during toxic negotiations for a new pay deal with players, will succeed long-serving James Sutherland as the board’s CEO later this month.
A former first class batsman for New South Wales with a strong corporate background, the 46-year-old Roberts has been Sutherland’s deputy for a number of years since joining the CA board as an independent director in 2012.
Roberts beat out a number of credentialled candidates, including board director John Harnden, who organised the successful 2015 World Cup co-hosted with New Zealand, and former New South Wales cricket chairman John Warn.
He takes over CA at a sensitive time, amid reviews into the board’s governance and the culture of the men’s team whose reputation was left in tatters by the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa.
A former Adidas executive, Roberts is best known to the public as CA’s lead negotiator in pay talks with players that grew increasingly poisoned and led to the boycott of a tour last year.
CA’s insistence on ending a 20-year revenue-sharing model proved a colossal miscalculation, and players ended up refusing to deal with Roberts.
They were only coaxed back to the table once Sutherland joined the talks late and agreed to continue the revenue-share.
Roberts told a media conference in Melbourne on Wednesday that he would be paying players’ union boss Alistair Nicholson “the respect” of a phone call later in the day.
But he added that plenty of relationship-building had already been occurring behind the scenes.
“There’s no doubt it was a challenging situation,” he said of the pay dispute.
“But we move forward, we learn and we make commitments as to how we grow the game and how we develop relationships.
“I’ll head up to the UAE (United Arab Emirates) to meet with the Australian men’s team and coaching staff and also catch up with the women’s team,” he added.
Tim Paine-captained Australia are set to play Pakistan in a two-test series in the Gulf nation starting next week.
The Australian Cricketers’ Association said its chairman Greg Dyer wished Roberts well on his appointment but his comments suggested lingering distrust between players and the board.
“This is a critical time for Australian cricket,” Dyer said in a statement.
“The cricket public need to reconnect with the game and this will begin with CA being open, fair and transparent in order to regain their trust.
“The on and off field events of the past 18 months have created an expectation that a number of things will need to change.
“Just as the players have been held accountable, we also expect that CA will be fully accountable in taking the difficult steps required to restore the reputation of the game.”
Sutherland, in charge since 2001, announced in June that he had given CA a year’s notice of his intention to step down but Roberts will formally take over the role later this month when confirmed at the board’s annual general meeting.
Roberts will have big shoes to fill, with Sutherland having helped turn the game into a commercial powerhouse in one of the world’s most crowded sports markets, securing a string of lucrative broadcast deals and ushering in the popular Twenty20 ‘Big Bash’ league in 2011.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)