New CEO wants NSW to play tough
If Cricket Australia seems to be in a state of flux at the moment, consider what it must be like within the offices of Cricket New South Wales. Since the start of last summer the CEO, chairman, coach and de facto captain have all either quit or been sacked, along with the general managers of both the Sydney-based Big Bash League teams. Off-field ructions and six years without a Sheffield Shield or one-day title had started to take their toll on a traditional cricket powerhouse.
Slowly but surely, the organisation is finding its new direction. Trevor Bayliss, who had success as the state's coach during his first stint in the position, is back in charge of the team. John Warn, the new chairman, has pushed for greater off-field input from former players. And now the final piece of the administrative puzzle has clicked into place, with Andrew Jones having taken up his position as chief executive this week.
"There has been a lot of change and I think there's a bit of trepidation but also a bit of hope and optimism about the next little while," Jones told ESPNcricinfo on his first day at the helm. "I'm certainly very, very excited about the challenge and hopefully everybody else is as excited as I am."
Jones comes to the position with impressive credentials, having worked as Cricket Australia's head of strategy, a role that required heavy involvement in the Argus review, a review of CA's financial model, the relaunch of the BBL and the overall strategic plan for cricket in Australia. He also arrives at Cricket New South Wales with first-hand knowledge of grass-roots cricket in the state, having served as president of the University of New South Wales club.
A grade cricketer with the side himself, Jones still plays the game occasionally and consequently knows the state's cricketers well. He believes he also knows what cricket fans want from the Blues, and the state's two BBL franchises, the Sydney Sixers and the Sydney Thunder.
"I approach this job with a cricket fan's perspective and the fans expect New South Wales to be excellent, they expect New South Wales to win," Jones said. "Certainly they are entitled to judge us on that basis. I'll be judging myself on other things as well. But they're certainly entitled to expect the team to perform. What people expect is for the players to be tough and represent the state well, to play skilfully but also with a lot of guts and determination.
"They want to see themselves in the teams, which means they want teams that make them feel good, not teams that make them feel bad. We're aware of that expectation and I have the same expectation as the fans do. I think the appetite to come to BBL games is there.
"I think people want to come to watch cricket in summer and I think what better way to spend a summer evening than with friends and family at the SCG or Homebush. I think if we play well the crowds will come. It's not necessarily about winning eight out of eight and playing with skill and determination, feeling like you're fighting."
Although there was no silverware for the state's men's teams last summer, the Blues did make a strong comeback in the second half of the Shield season to finish third, narrowly missing a place in the final. Jones believes the state has a solid group of players who can achieve on-field success, but he is also keen to ensure a positive off-field culture is nurtured around the squad.
"Players come in and out from the Australian team, so one of the challenges with New South Wales is you don't necessarily have the same side from week to week," he said. "That makes the culture even more important and it makes it crucial for people to understand what the expectations are when they come into the New South Wales environment and they understand the standard that's expected of them and are happy to set those standards to other people as well ... I'll get worried if I come across somebody who is wanting to just do the minimum."
While much of the focus is on New South Wales and producing players for Australia's Test and ODI outfits, the development of the Thunder and Sixers is also central to Jones' role. The Thunder especially have struggled on-field during the first two years of the BBL, having won only two of the 15 matches they have played.
Given the importance of the western Sydney market in appealing to a wider demographic, that is a trend that neither Cricket Australia nor Cricket New South Wales can afford to see continue. Michael Hussey is expected to sign with the Thunder for next season and Jones said on-field success was key to the Thunder drawing in the new fans cricket wants to reach.
"When I can first recall watching sport [as a child] I was living at Homebush West in a little flat very near where ANZ Stadium is now, and went for the Western Magpies who played at Lidcombe Oval," he said. "I hated the fact that they lost every week. It's the same thing. You want a team that people can be proud of, so that's a huge part of their role. People want to watch cricket, but they want to watch teams that represent them well."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here