The Best of Herald Sport 2012
A selection of the best sports photos from The Sydney Morning Herald photographers for 2012. Selected images available from www.fairfaxsyndication.com Photo: Wolter Peeters
BRETT LEE has claimed Anthony Stuart lost his job as NSW coach because he was made the scapegoat for the deficiencies of chief executive David Gilbert and the Cricket NSW hierarchy.
Lee, who said he was speaking out because the NSW team was too important to him to remain silent, said Gilbert, not Stuart, should have taken the bullet.
''I think the blame for a lot of things has been unfairly dumped on Anthony Stuart,'' Lee told Fairfax Media. ''It should have been at the top, Dave Gilbert. He should've been made to go in my opinion.
Fast ball ... retired NSW great Brett Lee has defended axed coach Anthony Stuart and targeted Cricket NSW leadership. Photo: Tim Clayton
''Cricket NSW is all about leadership, and while that comes from the coach, it comes from the top, too, and I believe for the last five or six years NSW has seriously dropped the ball … you can tell by their performances and it isn't the guys on the cricket field - it's the hierarchy.''
Lee said as the person who appointed, and then cut, Stuart with six months remaining on his two-year deal, Gilbert should take responsibility for a poor selection.
''If David Gilbert appoints Anthony Stuart and then basically fires him, even though they're saying his contract was not renewed, it was a bad call,'' Lee said. ''Why is he still there? In my opinion, it is a terrible situation and while Anthony Stuart was given the tap on the shoulder I believe the board should have gone right to the top and started with David Gilbert.''
Lee said a number of former players were just as concerned by the way the organisation was being run. There was a disconnection between the board and players due to such things as players writing to board members and not receiving a reply.
Indeed, the former Test bowler revealed the same thing happened when he announced his retirement earlier this year.
''When I retired I phoned David Gilbert to thank CNSW for all it had done for me, and the opportunities it presented me,'' he said. ''I believe in NSW cricket, I loved wearing the baggy blue, but I have not received a reply from him … every person I phoned, Ricky Ponting, James Sutherland, Adam Gilchrist … The only person who hadn't phoned me back was Dave Gilbert and CNSW.
''It was disappointing but it's important in this context because it's about communication and support, something I believe is missing at NSW and it's having a negative effect on the team.''
Lee urged a change in management and an end to the culture of blame. ''The only way NSW cricket is going to get better is to start with changes,'' he said. ''Start with the people who are making the decisions.
''Last year when I wanted to play for NSW in the one-day competition I was told I needed to prove my fitness to play in a day-night game at Brisbane after I came back from an appendix operation. The weekend [grade competition] was washed out and I was told by Anthony Stuart, who had his hands tied and I could see he was embarrassed to say it, they wanted me to travel to Melbourne and play in an under-19s game.
''I wasn't going to 'earn' my stripes for them. I was 35 at the time and decided to just pull the pin. I'd proven my fitness by bowling in the nets for four weeks. It was a disgrace.''
Sydney Sixers chief executive Stuart Clark, who was considered by many to be the heir to Gilbert's title, rejected claims he decided to quit at the end of the current Big Bash League because he was having problems with CNSW.
''I've had arguments and disputes with CNSW but I've decided to leave simply because I wanted to break the mould,'' Clark said. ''I'd played Test cricket and am now in cricket administration, I just wanted to try something else. I could always come back to it if the role was available; if not, that's the risk I take by leaving.''
Nevertheless, the state of play at CNSW has been described as unacceptable for some time.
Players were unhappy with Stuart's first year as coach and Fairfax Media put a number of issues to Gilbert during the off-season, including the suggestion Usman Khawaja and Phillip Hughes left for rival states because they did not believe the support system was in place at NSW to allow them to fulfil their potential.
Both are back in the national team mix after Hughes batted strongly for his adopted South Australia and Khawaja starred for Queensland.
Former NSW coach Steve Rixon, now a member of the Australian team's coaching staff, was adamant the state could turn its fortunes around very quickly if the right issues were addressed, including the annual leaking of players such as Ed Cowan, Hughes, Khawaja, Jackson Bird, Peter Forrest and Nathan Lyon to rival states.
''It could be turned around in one year,'' Rixon said. ''If it was done properly it could be turned around quickly. It should be so much better and anyone who has been around it is hurting and maybe even Australian cricket is hurting because of it.
''We're the most fruitful state in Australia … and we've been winning a lot of tournaments as a legacy of a lot of good players coming through the system and giving great opportunities to people.
''That appears to have dried up and that appears to be a problem. I think without digging too deep, because I haven't, it is obvious something is not right in the interim because NSW has always been better than that [and] because we need to develop Test cricketers and win trophies.''
Fairfax Media tried to contact Gilbert for comment. CNSW chairman Dr Harry Harinath refused to say anything more than that he disagreed with Lee's views.