CEO, Cricket Australia
Born in: East Melbourne, Victoria
Friends: Christian Johnston
Home Town: Melbourne
Australians are bored with cricket and our players are underperforming. As CEO of Cricket Australia, it's up to James Sutherland to resurrect our national summer sport and oversee the biggest shake-up cricket has seen since the Packer World Series revolution of the 1970s.
In Packer's day the players took on the establishment to try and drag the game into the modern professional era. Now, administrators like Sutherland are fighting underperformance and disinterest to keep the game ticking.
"I don't think cricket has ever faced the uncertainties it faces today," the 46-year-old Sutherland told the AFR last year.
Tall, lanky and fresh-faced, the former Ernst & Young accountant and first class cricketer has spent much of his professional life in and around sport's administrative offices.
He played and coached with Melbourne University's First XI, and spent some time in the finance department at Carlton Football Club, then moved onto bigger things at what was then the Australian Cricket Board. Three years later he was in the top job.
While Sutherland may not have set the world on fire bowling medium pace for Victoria (despite once claiming a nineteen-year-old Ricky Ponting hit wicket), as an administrator, his capacity to act on the challenges now facing our national sport make him powerful.
And in his tenth year as CEO of CA, Sutherland's current key priority is to address the Argus report, a swingeing review into the state of on-field performance by businessman Don Argus.
The inquiry, which was one of several reviews commissioned by the CA board in the wake of last summer’s diabolical Ashes series loss to England, claimed the scalps of selectors Andrew Hilditch, Greg Chappell, and coach Tim Nielsen.
Many recommendations handed down by the Argus review are yet to be acted on, but one outcome could be the increased influence of Sutherland.
"One of the outcomes of that is I think the chief executive will be further empowered and further accountable for performance of the Australian team," says Malcolm Speed the former CEO of the International Cricket Council and Sutherland's predecessor as head of the old ACB. Speed was on the five-man committee alongside Argus and former greats Allan Border, Steve Waugh and Mark Taylor.
Part of Sutherland's increased accountability will come from the appointment of former Wallaby Pat Howard to the newly-created role of general manager of performance. He'll help Sutherland appoint a new national coach to work across junior, state and national teams, with results expected to follow.
Sutherland could also be even more empowered by what comes out of the Crawford-Carter review into corporate governance to be released later this year. According to some news reports there is a chance the review could advocate an AFL-style commission, taking away the power of the state bodies who dominate the CA board.
There is a sense at the moment that Sutherland can't make the same moves as his fellow sporting administrators because of the states, that his hands are tied due to directors pursuing their own interests. But that's something Malcolm Speed rejects.
"They [the board] are sometimes focused on state issues, rather than national issues," Speed tells The Power Index. "I read somewhere that James Sutherland doesn't have the power of the other chief executives because of the board structure, I don't think that's correct."
Aside from governance and performance issues, Sutherland has also been charged with leading the game into a new entertainment era. It will be up to him to counter the poor attendance and TV ratings figures (last year's Ashes series aside) that have marred cricket's image in recent years.
To counter that, this summer will see the relaunch of the Big Bash, a glitzy new domestic eight-city-based Twenty/20 competition which Sutherland hopes will mirror the success of the Indian Premier League.
He's made no secret in the past of pushing for an expansion of Twenty/20 as a way of getting more people to the cricket. A successful league could also solve some of the costs associated with domestic cricket, such as the Sheffield Shield.
"If you were living in Twenty20 utopia, you would have the Big Bash competition being played at a time where it had clear oxygen and also allowed the international players to be available for selection for their teams," Sutherland told The Australian last year, twelve months before the board would approve the plans.
It could either be a big money spinner for Cricket Australia and the state organisations, capitalising on recent interest in the shorter forms of the game, or a bit of a flop which fails to make headway in an increasingly full summer sporting calendar.
So far the sponsorship dollars have not been great, according to reports, and the prospects of private ownership of the teams (which were initially valued at $20 million) have been derailed by infighting between the states and the national body. And whether it fits in with the Argus report's stated goal of being the No. 1 ranked Test nation is another question altogether.
But if the league takes off it will be a big win for Sutherland and his board. If the team wins a few Test matches then that won't hurt Sutherland's reputation either.
And Malcolm Speed says there are other areas where Sutherland has influence, such as in India, the rising powerbroker of world cricket. This can't be discounted. The sub-continent is hugely important to Cricket Australia; it was able to double its most-recent broadcasting deal by selling the rights to India.
"Australia now has a very close relationship with India which James has driven. That's a major positive for Australian cricket," says Speed.
All positive contributions, sure, but will Sutherland be able to help where it really counts – performance and participation? And then there is the continuing stench of match fixing, an issue which continues to dog cricket worldwide. There are a lot of people out there hoping that Sutherland has a solution for it all.
"It's hard to criticise James on the basis of recent performance because if that's been three bad years then he's been there for seven great years," says Speed.
"How I think he will be judged is how they bounce back out of this current downturn."