Last month, Nick Hockley was confirmed as Cricket Australia's permanent CEO a year after being whisked into the role following the departure of Kevin Roberts as the sport was trying to navigate Covid-19. He recently sat down with ESPNcricinfo to reflect on the last 12 months and look ahead at the challenges and opportunities in the game.
What were your thoughts when you arrived in the midst of a once-in-a-hundred-year crisis?
I didn't have too much time to think about it, if truth be told. At the time, I'd been dealing with the situation around the men's T20 World Cup, so I was certainly right across all of the Covid-related issues. As I said at the time, it was a complete surprise, quite a shock. Not sure if we spoke too much but I was probably a bit like a rabbit in the headlights. The situation we found ourselves in certainly focused the mind. Very quickly, we established four priorities: get the CA team back to work, to deliver to the summer safely, deliver for our partners, and then bring the game together, whether that was the states and territories or the players' association. Think a feature of the last summer is that we have all pulled together, everyone has had a hand in delivering the season and, hopefully, that puts us on firm footing as we come out of this situation.
There was uncertainty and tension throughout the season, perhaps one of the more visible moments was how the India Test series would finish in terms of venues. Was there ever a moment where you had to be strong on how it would play out?
It was a very uncertain time. What we did very well was bide our time in terms of decision-making. It was a case of every single day; I remember tuning into New South Wales press conferences at 11am [to see the latest Covid-19 numbers]. It was always our intent through the whole summer to play the series as scheduled and that was really because from the outset the lens we looked through was the cricketing public. There were times when there were calls to stay in Melbourne but we couldn't deprive the public of NSW who were suffering through the Northern Beaches situation through no fault of their own. Similarly, this notion that we wouldn't carry on to Brisbane, we couldn't deprive that public. But, by that stage of the season, what was most pleasing was we had relationships with all the jurisdictions, we had very solid bio-security plans, and everyone came together - including the BCCI. What wasn't so pleasing was the result, but for a Test series to come down to the last 20 minutes is pretty epic.
"It brought back a lot of pain, but it also caused us to reflect that it's always going to be there. We forget the lessons of that time at our peril" Nick Hockley on the return of the Newlands scandal to the headlines
You have put a figure of A$ 50 million on the cost of Covid-19 last summer. The hopes are the 2021-22 season will be smoother, but how much can the game absorb?
At the moment, we are hoping for the best but planning for the worst. Planning for a continuation of border closures but we are hopeful come the summer, providing there are no cases in the community, that we will be able to have freedom of movement and players will have more freedom. Equally, we now have the intellectual property and the relationships if we need to move quickly to enact contingency plans. I certainly feel for the winter codes; the disruption is extremely costly. Probably the big difference for cricket compared to the winter domestic competitions is the number of international teams coming. Last year, we had two teams, this year we are bringing six teams in. The two weeks' mandatory quarantine and setting up training facilities so players can train to come out in a fit condition to play, that comes at a cost and is extremely complicated. It requires support of government at every level. It's probably the biggest summer in the game's history here; in a normal course, an Ashes is a high-revenue year so that goes some way to offsetting the costs, but the range of cost outcomes is very much dependent on the situation as it unfolds.
Now that you no longer have "interim" next to your name, are there any areas you particularly want to focus on?
What Covid has done is shine a light on where capability lies across the whole sport. We were restricted from traveling, so a large proportion of our workforce had to stay at home for the season and that showed that we can work remotely, we can work as a collective across state and territory associations, so certainly look to take that agility and efficiency. And something I've spoken very passionately about over time is making sure we are the most inclusive sport we can be, that we continue to invest and aren't taking backward steps. I'm excited that we have two multi-format series for the women's team leading into a World Cup and a Commonwealth Games. Think we've seen a really rich talent pipeline coming through the WBBL, but it's making sure we are being very inclusive in the whole pathway and whole sport to make sure it's really representative of contemporary multicultural Australia. We are also really gearing up around the postponed men's T20 World Cup in 2022, which I think is a really important event. A bit like the women's World Cup was a great opportunity to change the game from a gender perspective, the men's World Cup is a great opportunity to build relationships with the expat communities across Australia.
How to do you think Australian cricket has dealt with the broader social issues - racism, diversity, inclusion - that have been at the forefront around the world in the last year?
We've made great strides. Our vision is to be a sport for all Australians. If you take, for example, our Reconciliation Action Plan, we've grown indigenous participation tenfold in eight years, we've got some fantastic role models. We do great work in the all-abilities space, but are we as a sport truly representative of the community we serve? Not yet. And we won't rest until we are. We've made massive strides from a gender perspective. The events particularly in England over the last few weeks [around historic tweets] only serve to emphasize the role sport plays and that the public holds sport to a very high account and we have a real leadership role to play. We must continue to work on ensuring that the game represents the very best of community. That means having respect for everyone and making sure they feel like they belong.
One of the key things on the horizon is the next MoU about how the players are paid. Are you hopeful it will be smoother than last time?
Absolutely. When you step back, the entire sport is aligned in wanting cricket to be as strong as possible and to have sustained growth. Both the players and administration have a really big hand in that. While we haven't been able to spend too much time face-to-face because people have been in bubbles, we have had to work more closely than ever. We are having constructive discussions around what's important, what are the things that are really going to grow the game and how does the playing group contribute to that, but also how can we support the players throughout their careers. The other thing I would say is I think the MoU has stood up well during Covid because it is in essence self-correcting if we have a revenue impact.
"I'm a great believer that more people playing cricket at the elite level can only be good for the health of the game. It's exciting that we've got an expanded T20 World Cup but equally there are more opportunities to play [the one-day] World Cup" Nick Hockley
Can you update us on the situation with Channel Seven?
We are deep in dialogue for planning for the upcoming season. The discussions that we have had have been really constructive. We've had some very honest conversations about the challenges of last 12 months, which were quite publicly documented, but certainly the latest meetings have been all about how we work together to deliver what is going to be a massive summer. We've been working through some innovations and ensure how the WBBL and BBL is really relevant to the contemporary youth audience and delivers on its promise to attract a new audience to the game.
What do you make of the next ICC calendar with global events now set to be played every year?
I think it's really exciting that there are more World Cup opportunities for more countries. I'm a great believer that more people playing cricket at the elite level can only be good for the health of the game. It's exciting that we've got an expanded T20 World Cup but equally there are more opportunities to play [the one-day] World Cup. I believe the formats do have a relationship with each other and think if countries can only play T20 at the world level, they are missing out on core skills for the longer formats. What is exciting is the potential to host some of those major world events in emerging markets; they just won't be limited to the traditional countries.
The health of the game in Australia is about much more than just the two main national teams, but they are the most visible part of the sport. How would you judge where they stand?
The Australia women's team are remarkable. This summer they'll be targeting getting a monkey off their back - I was there in Derby for the [50-over World Cup] semi-final against India in 2017 and I know from speaking to the captain and the coach how much that hurt. Think they are as hungry as ever and they are also very excited about the Commonwealth Games. What is particularly exciting is the young talent, some great young leaders, coming through and challenging what is a very settled side.
On the men's side, this is a really big moment. By their own admission, they were extremely disappointed about the last home summer particularly coming off the back of a previous home defeat against India. I know first-hand when we were unable to tour South Africa just how devastated the players were. It was reassuring for to see that disappointment, they just wanted to get back on the horse so there's a huge amount of hunger. There's no better opportunity than this upcoming summer to fulfil their potential as a side.
How is the relationship now with Cricket South Africa?
We've had lots of constructive discussions around how we schedule moving forward and how we make up for those postponed tours. South Africa were due to tour here as per the FTP this summer [for white-ball matches] but due to logistics around quarantine they are unable to do. All the latest discussions have been entirely constructive and, as we said, we are committed to rescheduling that tour as soon as it's safe to do so as it fits into the future schedule.
Did the return of the Newlands scandal to the headlines recently surprise you?
It really did surprise me. What it did, it brought back a real strength of feeling. It brought back a lot of pain, but it also caused us to reflect that it's always going to be there. We forget the lessons of that time at our peril. The progress the team under new leadership over the time has been phenomenal, they have really put culture and how they play absolutely at the core. Particularly going into the home summer that we've got, think it is better to acknowledge it is there and think about how the group comes together and what they want to be remembered for than forgetting about it. I had many conversations on the subject and went back and restudied the events of the time. We must never forget those learnings.