Cricket loses strategic mind as Andrew Jones quits NSW

Cricket NSW CEO Andrew Jones speaks to the media Getty Images

Australian cricket will lose one of its most agile minds at summer's end, after the New South Wales chief executive Andrew Jones chose to quit a post he has held for more than five eventful years, as part of nearly 15 involved in the game's strategic levels.

Jones saw the writing on the wall that his time in cricket was coming to an end when he was not even interviewed for the role of Cricket Australia chief executive to replace James Sutherland earlier this year, which instead went to the senior CA executive Kevin Roberts. The former NSW chairman John Warn was also unsuccessful in seeking the post, having resigned from the role he had served alongside Jones for much of the past five years.

Following lengthy discussions with Warn's successor John Knox, Jones informed staff, players and the NSW Board of his decision on Monday, after completion of the deal to relocate the state association's cricket headquarters to Wilson Park in Sydney's west provided a solution to the second of two of the biggest problems confronting it. The other, an underperforming and under-developing NSW men's team, was addressed earlier this year by the replacement of Trent Johnston with Phil Jaques, with a fresh group of state players ushered into the team so far this season.

"There's nothing left for me to do in cricket, and I've got plenty to offer elsewhere," Jones told ESPNcricinfo. "The reason I work in cricket is because I love it, and I've been very motivated by the desire to help Australian cricket achieve its potential. If I compare where it is now to when I started in and around cricket in 2004, it is well and truly down the track on that journey. I feel like I've done my bit."

"From a personal and professional point of view there's nothing else available that I want to do in cricket, so time to go do it somewhere else. I think it's unlikely I'll lose my passion for cricket, and I've been thinking about where the game should go prettymuch non-stop for 14 years, so I'll still have a point of view I'm sure, but in terms of full-time effort it is up to others now."

Jones played a key role in formulating numerous Australian cricket strategic plans since 2004 and as CA's head of strategy from 2010 to 2012 was instrumental in numerous advancements such as financial and governance reform, the introduction of the BBL and WBBL T20 leagues, and the sculpting of the Don Argus led team performance review in 2011. Having taken on the NSW job in 2013, he also helped usher in full professionalism for female players by delivering full-time contracts for the NSW Breakers squad in 2016, before the whole Australian system was revolutionised by a joint MoU for men and women last year.

"It's the right time. I intended to do the job for 3-5 years, as I was getting to the end of the five years it was pretty clear we had two major challenges still, the Blues and our facilities. I didn't want to leave with those unsolved," Jones said. "So we made some difficult decisions in the off-season with the Blues program, including playing and coaching staff, and we're very confident we're on the right track there. Then with the Wilson Park announcement we're certain NSW Cricket has set up for the future, facilities wise, so it's time to do something else.

"Mission accomplished is the feeling - there's always more to do, but there's nothing more that I personally want to do, so that means it's time for somebody else with some fresh ideas and energy to take us forward.

"From my own point of view, selfishly, I've got to decide what I want to do with my career and make sure that by the time the peak of my career has passed I've got enough in the bank to retire on, and you don't necessarily make retirement money working in cricket. I need to explore some other opportunities to make sure the Jones family is in good shape."

Reflecting on his time in cricket, Jones said that the death of Phillip Hughes was by far the most difficult period of his tenure, and while he was proud of the way the organisation coped, he also admitted that the loss of one of the state's brightest talents cast a pall over the men's team for years afterwards. Equally, he regarded the move to female professionalisation and the dominance of Steven Smith, David Warner, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon as contemporary Australian players as highlights.

"Lowlight of lowlights was Phil Hughes - it was an awful, awful time. Awful to watch a family watch their son die, and it also had a huge impact on our players. Most other things pale in comparison to that," he said. "There were facilities challenges along the way repeatedly and difficult people decisions, but Phil Hughes' death was in a league of its own. Having said that I was very proud of the way that players and staff got through that. It's taken a while for the Blues program to start growing again and we're at that stage now, which is really nice. That was really difficult and made those years very difficult.

"Professionalising the NSW Breakers, NSW having the six best male players in Australia at the same time, taking all the wickets and scoring half the runs in the Ashes, and having the best female players in the world as well. And then Wilson Park - that's been the great white whale for pretty much my whole time here. I'd been thinking about it for a while but that was certainly the milestone to achieve first. With that out of the way it was the right time to let everybody know."

Looking ahead to the future, Jones counselled administrators against becoming too comfortable or conservative in outlook, reasoning that growth needed to be continual to avoid a sport going into decline. "I certainly don't want to see cricket take a step back in its striving to grow and remain front and centre in Australian life," he said. "In my view you either grow or you die in sport or in any other business, so we've got to keep making sure we're bringing new fans and junior players into the game.

"From a Cricket NSW point of view I've always regarded the CEO job as one leg of an endless relay race that's been going since 1859 - if you get the job you've got to take the baton, sprint as hard as you can and then when you're ready to fall over, hand it over to someone else so they can sprint."

As for the critical areas in which to maintain the game's health, Jones did not hesitate in nominating the game's community levels, though he also pointed out that the WBBL needed careful nurturing ahead of its move to the key October/November slot at the outset of every summer from 2019 onwards. "We need to keep the game growing at grassroots level," he said. "A lot of work has gone into the strategy on that and I think we've got the strategy right. While the base grows, the sport will remain strong, as soon as the base shrinks, we're in trouble.

"At the professional level we've got to make sure we continue to invest in the WBBL because that'll be the main fan-facing competition in the first half of the season. Then from a BBL point of view we need to make sure that's a competition with global interest while ensuring that international cricket, particularly Test match cricket and World Cups remain the pinnacle of the game."

Jones will continue as NSW CEO until the end of the season, before taking a break and pursuing roles in the corporate world.