Cricket's changing of the guard at Peever pitch

David Peever continues a long corporate and sports tradition, writes Peter Ker.

David Peever continues a long corporate and sports tradition, writes Peter Ker.

LONG before he was Rio Tinto's No.1 man in Australia, David Peever was top of the list at another proud institution.

As the first name in the batting order at Easts Cricket Club, in Brisbane, Peever had the job of facing not only the shiny new ball, but the fastest bowlers that grade cricket had to offer.

"Back in those days, during a club season you would often play against cricketers who were coming back from Test duty, and so several times a season you would have to face Test-quality fast bowlers like Carl Rackemann, Craig McDermott and Geoff Dymock," he said. "But they wouldn't remember that because I wasn't at the crease long enough. I was an opening batsman and, frankly, it was a place I never felt comfortable batting but for some strange reason that is where I had most success as a player. I didn't really enjoy going out and facing fast bowlers nor the prospect of that, but once you get out there and get into the swing of things, it's OK."

Peever the batsman may have never worn the baggy green, but as a businessman he is now firmly entrenched in Australian cricket's corridors of power. In September he was one of three prominent business people appointed to the board of Cricket Australia, as the organisation tries to broaden its business acumen.

The 26-year veteran of Rio Tinto joins telecoms executive Jacquie Hey and former adidas managing director Kevin Roberts in revitalising a board that has for decades featured only representatives of state cricket associations.

It will now feature six state representatives as well as Peever, Hey and Roberts, continuing the long tradition in Australia for corporate heavyweights to occupy senior roles in sporting organisations.

"The changing structure of the board is clearly saying that the zone we are in is the business of cricket, so I suppose with my business skills I can bring something to that," he said. "I don't think of the Cricket Australia board as independents and state delegates, what we are very conscious of is delivering on a united strategy for cricket in Australia."

While that might sound easy, rarely before has the world of cricket been less united.

The game has reached a critical period in its evolution, as the big money attached to Twenty20 cricket continues to inflict all manner of change.

Traditionally played between states, counties and nations, the top level of the game now has professional franchises calling on players from all parts of the globe.

The calendar is now crammed with contests across three different forms of the game, meaning players have never before had so little respite for their bodies and minds.

"It's a very interesting juncture that cricket has reached with the three forms of the game," he says. "I think being able to bridge between those various forms is the big opportunity to grow the whole game.

"We need to be looking at it that way, rather than see it as a contest between the three forms of the game."

Cricket's axis of power is tilting too, with the traditional administrative powers in England and Australia now struggling to match the influence that comes with the television dollars on the subcontinent.

On that point, Peever says cricket is an interesting subset of the recent debate around the federal government's white paper on Australia in the Asian Century.

The white paper urged the nation to engage more with its northern neighbours, and while that might come naturally to a company such as Rio Tinto, which sells iron ore and coal, it has not always come naturally to all parts of Australian society.

Peever suggests that the strong affection for cricket in such nations as Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and even Afghanistan means the sport is well positioned to deepen Australia's relationship with Asia.

"The fact that a significant proportion of new Australians are from the subcontinent is definitely an opportunity to build the game here," he said. "Diversity in cricket is very important." Rio Tinto is the nation's largest private sector employer of indigenous Australians, and works with the AFL to increase participation. Peever says similar programs could work for cricket.

"I know the Cricket Australia board shares the view that that is a very important place cricket can have an impact, and that's something we will be placing increased focus on."

He says gender diversity will also remain an important focus, and has been helped by the recent World Cup victory by Australia's women's cricket team.

"Overall, it is a challenging and intriguing time for cricket but also one with opportunity, and that's why the strategy needs to come together and, indeed, it is coming together," he said.

Peever will be at the MCG on Wednesday to watch Sri Lanka take part in the showpiece day of Australian cricket, the Boxing Day Test.

For him, the day will be an opportunity to continue the "listening" tour that has already taken him to Test matches in Adelaide and Hobart this summer. "I'm very much in listening mode at the moment, so I have taken the opportunity to get around to some of the games, and the purpose, in between watching the cricket, is to get to understand what people within the different states are thinking and feeling and what's on their mind so we can put all of that together as we think about the direction," he said.

"Listening can make a real difference in both business and sport."

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