Jamie Cox ready for 'moral and ethical challenges' after being appointed MCC Assistant Secretary
Australian takes over from long-serving John Stephenson at Lord's
Jamie Cox, the former Tasmania and Somerset batter who captained both sides during an outstanding career in domestic cricket, has been appointed as MCC Assistant Secretary (Cricket and Operations), warning that the game faces "some moral and ethical challenges".
Cox is succeeding John Stephenson, who has stepped down after 17-years in the role at Lord's to become Essex's chief executive. The 51-year-old Australian is charged with overseeing the club's out-match programme, which sees them play around 500 games a year, the overseas touring schedule and delivering the influential MCC World Cricket committee. He starts in September.
But Cox believes his period in in the role will be defined by a debate over the "spirit of cricket" and his ability to "lift the ethical standards of the game".
Cox accepts that any talk of the spirit of the game is fraught with difficulty. He accepts that everyone has a different definition of what it means to play "hard but fair" and knows that will some will dismiss him as "naive and crazy". But he hopes the example of recent New Zealand teams, who he believes "stumbled across a magic formula", can inspire the whole game and start a debate.
"I think our game has some moral and ethical challenges," Cox told ESPNcricinfo. "But certainly my leadership of the MCC will be defined around the want and need to play the game the right way.
"It's one of the areas that attracted me to the role. It's not just about the guardianship of the Laws of the game but the spirit of the game, too. It's really dear to me.
"As part of my presentation for the role, I used that famous photograph of Freddie Flintoff hunched over Brett Lee at the end of that 2005 Test at Edgbaston. Because it's celebrated as the best of cricket and an example of the wonderful spirit in which the game can be played. But, as I see it, that should be pretty normal behaviour.
He added: "Without sounding naive and crazy, if there's anything that we can challenge to try and just lift the ethical standards of the game, that's exactly what I'll be trying to do. I'll stand strongly behind the right way to play. Because I think it's critical.
"I'm an unashamed lover of New Zealand sport and New Zealand cricket. I've asked people in Australia 'Why haven't we actually done a study based on how New Zealand managed to become number one in the world? Why haven't we copied them?' There are some great lessons to adopt.
"I unashamedly admire the way New Zealand play. And I think it's fabulous that they've got the reward of winning the World Test Championship after a few near-misses in one-day cricket.
"We've got to think about opportunities to open up the game to new markets and offer the game to people who might have not previously had that opportunity"Jamie Cox
"When Brendon McCullum took over, he decided how his team was going to play and it was going to be true to itself. I think he stumbled across a magic formula, really, and they play the game the right way.
"I look at the way Kane Williamson behaved at the end of that amazing 2019 World Cup final and I'm just not sure an Australian would have handled themselves in quite that manner. It was so statesmanlike."
Some will point out that Cox's own record is not without blemish. While he was a 'walker' throughout his career - a habit which he admits underwhelmed some of his Tasmania colleagues - he was sacked from his job as general manager at the South Australian Cricket Association after a tapping-up scandal in the Big Bash.
"I made a mistake," he says. "And I got pretty heavily penalised for it. It was a long time ago and it was a pretty basic administrative error.
"But I've made my piece with it and now I consider it part of my journey. It taught me a lot and I actually think I'm a better administrator - a better person, even - because of the tough times I went through. It's my only scar in the game. It's not something I love but yeah, it happened."
Like many in the game, Cox was shocked by the 2018 ball-tampering debacle in Cape Town. He feels, however, that Cricket Australia - and Justin Langer and Tim Paine, in particular - have a done "a decent job" of improving the way in which the national team plays and feels Australian teams of an earlier era had something in common with modern New Zealand sides.
"I'll never forget the day I woke up and heard the [ball-tampering] news," he says. "It was a horrible time. There's no Australian that's proud of it. But Australian cricket was probably heading that way for quite some time. It had developed an edge. When you look back now, you can see the tension boiling.
"I think [Cricket Australia] have done a decent job - not a perfect job - of restoring their reputation.
"I reckon there was an era - and I speak of the era in which I grew up with guys who were a lot older than me - when they used to play the game incredibly tough, but there was a line that never got crossed. It was always played in the right spirit. Cricket can still be incredibly hard-edged and competitive, but maintain that respect."
Another of Cox's challenges is trying to make sure the MCC - something of a bastion of privilege - is relevant beyond the club's membership. And to do that, he believes they have to look beyond cricket's male constituency.
"It is a club that's looking to continually evolve," he says, "and I've read enough to know that it understands those challenges. It knows that in order to remain relevant, it has to continue to grow and diversify.
"The opportunities to grow the game through male participants like myself are probably limited. So therefore we've got to think about opportunities to open up the game to new markets and offer the game to people who might have not previously had that opportunity. With a fresh set of eyes and ears, I hope we can continually lift the bar. I am both excited and deeply honoured to be joining the MCC."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo