Ball tampering, brand and culture - Lessons we can all learn

Our cricketers are role models and cricket is synonymous with fair play. How can our team by engaged in cheating like this? It beggars belief.
— Malcolm Turnbull - Australian Prime Minister

One of the skills the successful strategists I interviewed during my research had developed was the ability to reflect and learn from their own and, importantly, others experience. The recent ball tampering "scandal" involving the Australian cricket team provides some valuable lessons that we can all learn from.


Lesson 1 - Brand is built over decades and can be destroyed in minutes

Whether you like them or hate them, the Australian cricket has developed their own unique brand over the past one hundred or so years - The baggy green. Brands like this, and the All Blacks are a similar example, are valuable commodities able to attract significant revenue from match attendance, broadcast rights, merchandise and sponsorship. 

But, and it is a very big but, brands are fragile. As we are witnessing with Australian Cricket, single acts and events are able to erode, or destroy, brands fundamentally changing people’s perception of the brand and company, often fatally. Here are some well known examples:

  • Arthur Andersen – They were part of the Enron scandal
  • Ratners - The CEO infamously called their own jewellery “crap”
  • Dream World - The recent deaths on a fun ride
  • BP – The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
  • Volkswagen - falsifying environmental tests
  • Facebook - privacy issues (the outcome of which is currently up in the air)

The lesson is vital, your brand is impermanent and fragile. You need to manage and protect it at all times!

Lesson 2 - Culture is key

I popped out the end of my MBA, it completely transformed my view of the world. I discovered that to be successful it wasn’t about technology and finance as I thought, it was all about people.
— Research participant

Some organisational disasters are the result of a single, rogue individual but usually, when it is reviewed closely, they are actually the result of a toxic organisational culture which allows individuals to take questionable actions. The Australian cricket authorities, and the Australian public, have started focusing on the question of how could the culture of the team allow this to happen. 


If you’re a New Zealander who follows cricket you’ll be aware of the stark difference between the Australian and New Zealand cricket cultures. This was starkly highlighted at the last cricket World Cup. Australia seemingly delighted in being arrogant, aggressive and just plain nasty where New Zealand were applauded for the generous spirit in which they played the game. Grant Elliot epitomised New Zealand's style by offering a consoling hand to Dale Steyn after hitting the winning runs in the semi-final. A week later the Australians gave Grant Elliot a vile send off in the final after he batted brilliantly to try and rescue the New Zealand innings. 

The Australian cricket culture, nurtured by the captain, managers and coaches, was and is toxic and this environment allowed the hair-brained plan to hatch. Cricket Australia have a written “spirit of cricket” document to guide player action. This is a classic example of the difference between the ideal culture pinned on the wall and the culture as it is enacted. Enron too had laudable organisational values.

People generally act rationally in response to the culture in your organisation. If you have a toxic culture then you have people who will make toxic decisions that may go off like atom bombs.

Lesson 3 - Your reputation is your personal brand

Ask yourself this question - what do people think and feel when they hear the name <insert your own name>?

Your name operates in exactly the same way as your organisations brand. When people hear your name they feel a range of emotions that they have attached to your name. It's called brand affinity - a natural liking for, and understanding of, someone or something.

A company’s brand affinity is something they should protect at all costs and so should you because, in exactly the same way a brand's reputation can be tarnished or destroyed, so can yours. One indiscretion, maybe not your fault, and your name, your brand, may be badly injured. Have a look at the following list and you'll recognise most of these names for all the wrong reasons.

  • Trevor Chappell
  • Harvey Weinstein
  • Joanne Harrison
  • Lance Armstrong
  • OJ Simpson
  • Bill Cosby

These are extreme examples but reputations can be quickly dented and people have long memories. You spend your life time building your own brand and everything you do either adds or subtracts from your reputation. Everything! It's a thought worth keeping in the back of your mind at all times.

Steve Smith, David Warner, Darren Lehman and probably Cameron Bancroft will have a difficult time rebuilding their personal brand. Everything they have achieved prior to that fateful decision has effectively been neutralised and it is likely their names will be forever associated with cheating.