It’s Iain Roy I feel sorry for. “Who?” and “Why so?” you may ask. Well, Mr Roy’s job title – Head of Integrity for Cricket Australia – suddenly looks faintly ridiculous.
There’s been an outpouring of gleeful gloating from large sections of the media in the wake of ‘sandpaper-gate’. Led by Pommie journos and fans who are only too delighted to have something other than their own cricketing woes to focus on, the coverage is, to my eye, a little distasteful. Nevertheless, it’s instructive to look back on the press conference Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft gave during last winter’s Ashes, where they discussed an alleged ‘headbutt’ by England’s Jonny Bairstow. That was held in an atmosphere of high frivolity, Smith doing his best “thank God I wore my corset” impersonation as he failed to suppress schoolboy giggles. Compare that to the wake-like ambience at this week’s confessional with the same two protagonists. Sport really does have a habit of biting you on the arse.
Anyway, let’s forget the schadenfreude for now. The question is: where does the Australian cricket team go from here?
Here’s a four-point plan of action.
1. Wipe the slate clean
This process is undoubtedly underway. The aforementioned Mr Roy and high-performance manager Pat Howard are preparing a report for Cricket Australia Chief Executive James Sutherland to consider on his imminent arrival in South Africa. By the time you read this, I’d be amazed if we haven’t seen the removal of some of the principal players in this drama.
It’s a crucial first step on the road to recovery. Not only as a signal to the outside world (media, fans, and the weak-looking governing body ICC, who doled out a laughable one-match ban to Smith) but also, and crucially, to the group left behind, those individuals tasked with dragging Australia out of this mess.
So, a fresh start. Now what?
2. Restate your vision and values
I have no idea what the official vision of the Australian cricket team is. But let’s imagine – for hits and giggles – that it’s this: ‘To be the most dominant team in the world by playing the best cricket there’s ever been.’ Now, I confess, this is a vision statement nicked from another elite team (of which more below) and repurposed for effect.
But the point is that it’s deliberately enormous, unreasonable, and about more than just the game itself – it’s about permanence, creating a legacy that will last forever.
Then there are the things the team holds sacred, its core values. The SAS, by the way, has ‘humility’ as one of its values – that might not be a bad place to start for Australia. And then, sure, revisit some of those traditional Australian cricketing concepts. For example, legendary wicketkeeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist has spoken eloquently in the past of the two native beasts that appear on the iconic ‘baggy green’ cap: the emu and the kangaroo. They’re significant, says Gilchrist, because both animals are physically incapable of taking a backward step.
The players and staff must share an understanding of, and commitment to, these values and vision. Like geese that fly in that beautiful V-shape formation, they have to pull in the same direction.
OK: a big, audacious, unreasonable vision. Check. Some core values that can inform on-field actions and off-field behaviour. Check. Now we need our story.
3. Write your new Narrative – together
Here, it’s crucial to embrace the dark side. If we/the team are the hero of our story, who or what is the anti-hero, trying to thwart us? What’s our mission? Why must we act now, what’s our ‘burning bridge’? What happens if we fail?
Strange, isn’t it? Sports psychology champions positive thinking – for instance, with visualisation techniques – and imagining the negative is often frowned upon (the same is true of marketers, by and large). And yet, when you stand for something, you must by definition stand against something else. Knowing what that something is can be incredibly powerful in galvanising a team.
And it’s not only external forces that pull against a team, although heaven knows Australia have enough of them to combat right now. Arrogance, individualism and a sense of entitlement from within the ranks can be adversaries just as dangerous as any opponent on the field.
Again, Australia must ensure the players and management team write this story together. They’re the ones who are going to have to make it live in the real world.
4. Make your story live – build your own Folklore
And that’s the final and most important piece of the jigsaw, isn’t it? Putting it into practice, making the story live and breathe each and every day so that it becomes a high-functioning culture or ‘the way we do things around here’.
It can be useful to think of ways in which we verbalise, symbolise and ritualise the story. Or, to put it simply: the things we say, the things we make and the things we do.
There’s a story we regularly use at Fable to make a point about rebooting team culture. If you’re Australian and you’ve managed to read this far without throwing your laptop out of the window, then grit your teeth once more. It concerns the fall and rise of the New Zealand rugby side, from an ignominious moment in the mid-Noughties when they were seen as serial chokers – almost literally when one team member was so drunk post-game that he had to be put in the recovery position by the opposing captain – to reclaiming the world number one spot and becoming double world champions a decade later.
One of the All Blacks’ mantras during that period (funnily enough borrowed from Australian Rules outfit the Sydney Swans) was ‘no dickheads’. In unrelated news, Smith and his deputy David Warner are unlikely to be part of the rebuilding process Cricket Australia will be embarking on.