Knowing well in advance that several of Australian cricket's states were going to cut a swathe through their community programs did not make the blows any less galling for Cricket Australia's head of community cricket Belinda Clark.

Of more than 150 jobs lost across the states in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and CA's own calls for major cuts to state distributions - a request still being fought by New South Wales and Queensland - at least half were drawn from the community cricket field forces set-up through directed funding from head office to each of the states. Nowhere were the cuts deeper than in Victoria, where the community cricket staff of more than 40 is now just 12.

At the same time as Clark was dealing with these cuts to an area that remains as CA's biggest strategic priority for the game's future, she was also having to deal with the reduced budgets her own department was facing as a result of commitments by the former chief executive Kevin Roberts, backed by the CA board, to make deep internal cuts to the governing body.

ALSO READ: What's in the inbox of interim Cricket Australia CEO Nick Hockley?

Over a long and torturous process that ultimately saw Roberts sacked, Clark was able to claw things back to a point where community cricket's departmental head count is the same now as it was in March. Nevertheless, the tribulations of the past three months have left their mark on Clark, and made her more adamant than ever that a collaborative approach is urgently needed.

"There's still plenty of money in cricket," Clark told ESPNcricinfo. "Our job is to find a way of using that as effectively as we can. I have a strong belief that we'll be better if we do that together in a collaborative way with the community, and we'll do everything we can to understand what the community's after, that we stay in touch with what they're feeling. So as a sport we need to work together.

"We've still got more people out in the field than we had 10 years ago. So if you try to take a step back and get some perspective, is this ideal, no, did we want to do it, did we want this to happen, no, has everyone been impacted, yes. What we're now trying to do is make sure that whatever we're doing is supporting the people that are actually putting the game on week in, week out, which is the community."

As for dealing with the raft of disillusionment that has flowed down from CA itself to the state associations and out among players and community competitions, Clark said that earlier promises still needed to be kept. "Trust is built by delivering on your promise. Our promise to the community is they're at the forefront of our thinking in everything we're trying to do.

"We'll do our best to live up to our promise, which is to say we won't be able to give the community everything they want, we won't get everything right, but our intention absolutely is to support them through this, because we know that ultimately they're providing opportunities at a local level for a young kid to start their journey."

"We're looking forward to bringing back into people's minds the awesomeness of 86,000 people watching a women's final, and turn that into young girls picking up a bat and ball"

In assessing the decidedly chaotic landscape where New South Wales is alone among states in not making cuts to their state-based community cricket programs, Clark said that while solutions needed to be found, individual associations still needed to take responsibility for their own patches. Given the major reduction in resources for community and rural cricket in Victoria in particular, this leaves a particularly knotty problem still to be solved.

"We spent some time and effort putting more staff in and making sure they were directed at clubs," Clark said of the preceding 18 months. "What we found was that the support they were providing was a positive from the clubs and they enjoyed getting a much closer relationship and support from the state association.

"So we know what support they're after, and we know we've now got a decrease in the number of field staff, so what we've got to do is find solutions in connecting those things. We've upped our effort in the customer service centre in order to supplement and still provide some support. But the reliance is still back at each state and territory level as well to make sure they're doing what they need to do. It's a really sad situation we're in, but we need to keep finding solutions to it."


CA chairman takes blame for poor communication

Earl Eddings desires better communication and speaks about potential cuts to revenue

Clark has flagged that while there will be a "small" overall participation increase for Australian cricket over the summer of 2019-20, Covid-19's impact had been felt. This was true both in its effect on indoor and winter cricket competitions, and also in reducing the amount of time CA and the states had to capitalise on the wave of enthusiasm created by the women's T20 World Cup and its showpiece final crowd of more than 86,000 at the MCG on March 8.

"Into the future I'm optimistic around where we can get to, we will unashamedly focus our attention on getting kids to play because we know we need to provide those great experiences early in order to keep someone in the game," Clark said. "People don't turn up and play cricket at 20 having not participated before, so we will focus our attention on helping clubs and associations get kids in.

"To blindly walk forward expecting no impact for overall participation, that would be silly. We will be impacted, but I'm optimistic we can keep the number of kids playing. The only way we can do that is to support volunteers. So that's where our focus will be.

"We're looking forward to bringing back into people's minds the awesomeness of 86,000 people watching a women's final, and turn that into young girls picking up a bat and ball. That's a challenge, because there's been a vacuum in between the two things. We're wanting people to remember how great that was, and how great they felt, and make sure we provide opportunities for kids to pick up a bat and a ball from that."