Australian cricket will soon rid itself of a major conflict of interest after Mark Waugh chose to step down as a national selector in order to commentate full-time for the pay-TV provider Fox Sports.
Officially Waugh is still slated to be the selector on duty when the limited-overs team travels to England in June for a series also to be broadcast on Fox, but he will have moved on by the time the next home summer begins.
Waugh, who has been a selector since May 2014, will be part of Cricket Australia’s new host broadcaster, with Fox Sports (part-owned by News Corporation) having paid the lion’s share of the A$1 billion television-rights fee sought. In return for the cash, CA has hidden two of three international formats – ODIs and Twenty20s – behind a paywall for the first time in Australian history.
For the past year, Waugh has been officially designated CA’s T20 selector in addition to being on the panel to choose teams across all formats, despite concurrently commentating for the Ten Network on its successful coverage of the Big Bash League (BBL). Ten’s loss of the rights to the BBL, alongside Nine’s forfeiture of the rights to international cricket for the first time in 40 years, has led to a feeding frenzy for commentary positions at Fox and also Seven, which will show Test matches and some BBL games on free-to-air television as part of a sub-licensing deal.
Alongside the CA board director Mark Taylor while he was also commentating for Nine, Waugh’s has been the most obvious conflict on Australian television screens over the past four seasons, making for numerous awkward moments – not that Ten minded the recurring source of conversation starters. Shaun Graf, Cricket Victoria’s operations manager, said what many were thinking after Waugh offered a thinly veiled criticism of Glenn Maxwell on one broadcast by saying of D’Arcy Short: “Haven’t seen him play a reverse sweep, have we in six games? I think some of the other batsmen around the country, take note.”
“I know he puts himself into a little bit of a conflict of interest by being a commentator as well, [but] I don’t think that’s the forum to discuss anything like that,” Graf told SEN Radio last summer. “Maybe ‘Junior’ should concentrate on his special comments but not maybe talk as much in relation to the selection side of things.”
The Olympic hockey player and respected coach Ric Charlesworth, a state cricketer for western Australia in the 1970s and ’80s, raised the issue of Waugh’s conflict in a 2016 book. Charlesworth is a mentor to the new Australian coach Justin Langer. “Another boundary that seems to have been crossed in cricket is that of selection,” Charlesworth wrote in World’s Best.
“One of the Australian selectors, Mark Waugh, appears on television as an expert commentator and gives opinions on form and performance… this appears an extraordinary conflict of interest. Many of the traditional boundaries are being crossed and there is increasing pressure for coaches and players to ‘come out’ of the game during the contest and sponsors, broadcasters and producers drive this behaviour.”
Given to following his instincts rather than relying overly on numbers, Waugh made a mark upon the final squad-selection he has been involved in, choosing Nic Maddinson for the T20 leg of the England tour even though the former state captain had been left out of the New South Wales contract list for next season.
Waugh’s signature with Fox Sports joins those of Isa Guha, Mel Jones, Adam Gilchrist, Michael Hussey and Michael Vaughan. Seven, meanwhile, have signed Ricky Ponting. Nine’s long-time commentator Bill Lawry has declined approaches from the two networks.