Howard the last domino who must fall

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A disastrous year in Australian cricket that has claimed chairman, CEO, captain and coach has one more victim who, to this point, remains standing. But only just.

Tangible administrative changes predicted after the ball tampering scandal have finally eventuated with this week’s resignation of chairman David Peever. With it has emerged a certain clarity about the final steps in the clearout. That is, that high-performance chief Pat Howard must be the final domino to fall.

As it stands, Howard’s tenure will come to a natural conclusion in September 2019. Between now and then, Australia plays off for the most valued of cricketing prizes: the World Cup and the Ashes. From both a cultural and performance aspect, Howard’s position is now as out of place as Peever’s.

Peever fell on his sword. (Photo: William West/AFP)

Howard’s seniority since 2011 dictates that the so-called toxic culture that has so damaged the reputation of Australian cricket was, in essence, allowed to take place under his watch.

If, as Cricket Australia claims, the upcoming summer is a new dawn of Australian cricket, his influence on it is wholly out of place. His voice is now unsuitable, unwarranted and for many, unwanted.

Howard has shown himself to be overly obsessive with numbers, infatuated with young talent, at odds with shield and grade cricket, and possessing a certain lack of cricketing naivety.

His background in rugby – long a bugbear of cynics – is not reason alone for a don’t-let-the-door-hit-you sort of departure. But it certainly is a reason.

The recent revelation that Howard sent a scathing email to staff after Australia lost to Bangladesh in 2017 showed, to use his own words, an ‘embarrassing’ lack of awareness. “I am personally embarrassed and take accountability and happy to accept any criticism that comes our way,” he wrote, revealed in Gideon Haigh’s Crossing the Line.

“For some of you sitting here in Dhaka you are fully aware of how poor a result this is.”

This was a Bangladesh Test side that had beaten England on home soil 12 months earlier. A side that had long surpassed easy-beat status, and one with world-class talent in Shakib Al Hasan and Mehidy Hasan.

Howard, however, wasn’t convinced. “I am reasonably confident that many of the players that have just beaten us would not get a run in any of the state teams”, he declared. If you wanted a nutshell example of CA’s “arrogance” as reported in the Longstaff Review, this was it.

Maybe the email was a result of frustration at Australia’s increasingly poor record away from the comfort of home decks.

Under Howard’s watch, Australia has proven time again an inability to adapt to foreign surrounds.

In 2019, the team travels to the UK for successive World Cup and Ashes campaigns squeezed into an action-packed four-month period. Australia go into it having won just two of the last 18 ODIs, and three of its last 15 Tests away from home.

Cricket Australia team performance general manager Pat Howard (AAP Image/Nikki Short)

His position, on results alone as team performance chief, is unsustainable. He is not alone in contributing to our recent failures overseas, but he is also far from blameless.

Howard’s undermining of state and grade cricket has been a significant source of frustration. In part he fostered an environment where the state competition could be tinkered with to suit the national team – something that has irritated many below the top level.

Bonus points for runs, in game ‘player management’ and the introduction of the failed Cricket Australia XI were all introduced or allowed under Howard, all with widespread scorn.

But as we know, the recent tumult in Australian cricket goes beyond systems and results. A laser focus on behaviour, character and values has weeded out those who have, in certain ways, shown to have contributed to a culture that allowed the incident in Cape Town to occur.

A former 20-Test Wallaby, Howard spoke several times of his reverence for the All Blacks, and their approach to the game; hard, fair, shake hands, sweep the sheds. If a personal goal was to replicate the Kiwi framework, he has failed.

Howard has had sceptics since his first day in office. Those sceptics have now developed into a baying mob, in violent agreement that he should follow Peever out the door in quick fashion.

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