Player to Broadcaster to Director – Melanie Jones does it all
2017-18 was a difficult period for Cricket Australia (CA). It started with the pay dispute, then came the ball tampering scandal that resulted in a cultural review, and finally a string of resignations among the senior management. Suddenly, it seemed like an administration, and team (read, men) that had ruled both on and off the field for a long period of time, was crumbling.
However, more than a year down the line, CA have found a way back into the light. Over the past 12 months they have not only laid the foundations for a new, more healthy culture in the men’s team, but also brought about policy changes to benefit and further develop the women’s game— at both domestic and international level— that has been going from strength to strength.
In the latest of these decisions— which include high-paying contracts, equal prize money for the T20 World Cup, transgender guidelines, parental (leave) policy, and much more— Melanie Jones, the former Australia cricketer-turned-commentator, has been appointed a Director of CA, the first female representative to be elected to the board, having been nominated by Cricket Victoria.
“I was approached during the men’s Ashes series over in England,” Jones told Women’s CricZone. “I think it was around the Lord’s Test. They had gotten John Allan on board to provide a number of candidates for the position. I happened to be one of them.”
CA sent out some criteria to Cricket Victoria which they had a look at and identified Jones as their potential candidate. Although her state board believed she fit the bill, Jones initially thought the approach was a joke.
“They reached out when I was in England just to see if I would be interested, and to tell the truth I think initially I thought it was a bit of a joke,” she laughed. “I thought someone was pulling my leg! Something as big as this, I just thought ‘there is no way- no! I don’t have the skill.’ And then, I slowly started to think about it more and more and I realised that it was something that, you know, I’d really love to do.”
“I had been looking at getting onto another board in the near future but hadn’t contemplated the cricket space. Weighing up a number of factors I wanted to at least go through the process and make a case for a different (voice) to be heard. It’s something I’m obviously very passionate about… So they put my name forward, (and I) went through the process which was a number of interviews at the Cricket Victoria board when I got back from the Ashes. Then it was up to them to select their candidate that they would put through to CA.”
Jones, a Medal of the Order of Australia winner earlier this year, brings to the table several years of experience as an administrator across platforms. She held a board role previously with Bowls Australia as a non-executive board member between 2014 and 2017, was a member of the Victorian State Government Women in Sport and Recreation Taskforce in 2014-15, and a Red Dust board member between 2010 and 2013. She has worked extensively to promote cricket among indigenous communities, develop school programs and create pathway championships. The recent position is merely another feather to her cap.
“I was certainly more humbled than anything else,” Jones said of the appointment. “I certainly fit the criteria that CA were looking for, so that ticked a number boxes to begin with, but at the same point in time, having been on a number of boards before… I’ve been on the health promotion charity that works with indigenous community, and I’ve been on the board of Bowls Australia which is a national sporting association. They certainly don’t have the platform, or revenue, and scrutiny that CA do, but I do have the experience.”
Soon after the announcement was made by CA, there was an outpouring of positivity from the cricketing fraternity— so much so, that Jones was overwhelmed by the reactions.
“I’ve been absolutely blown away…That’s what’s been the surprise,” she laughed. “Not just from Australia, but from around the world as well, people have been so nice in passing on their congratulations.”
“Part of the reason why I applied was to be in support of cricket people out in various communities and areas that I am passionate about, so to know that they— the people from club cricket and various kinds of communities, (and those) that work in cricket, and the cricket community of all abilities— have a voice at the table. You are obviously going to cop your knockers— those that don’t agree with it (the appointment) and what (I) have to offer — but overall it’s been absolutely wonderful.”
Having established herself as one of the most popular and respected voices of the game in recent times, Jones will face the tricky task of managing her media commitments alongside her activities as Director. Despite the murmurs of that dreaded phrase, ‘conflict of interest’, the former top-order batter says with CA’s strict guidelines in place, she will be able to draw a clear line between the roles.
“Look, I think, (if) you look at any board member on any board there will always be varying degrees of conflict of interest,” Jones explains. “We’ve got a board member at the moment who is a chair of a bank in Australia and we’re sponsored by a different bank. To avoid that is exceptionally difficult.”
“From my perspective the media conflict will arise around the next negotiations which are still five years away. But when a conflict arises at any point there are very clear guidelines with the board at CA about such conflict— my papers will be redacted with anything that has anything to do with broadcasters and, when it gets to the pointy end of things, you know, I would actually be excused from the discussions. I’m more than happy to do that too, because we have a very intuitive and switched on board.”
One of two former cricketers on the board— Michael Kasprowicz, the other— one of Jones’ immediate challenges will be to get used to the grind of reading a lot of paperwork, she jokes. However, more important, and in line with CA’s aim, she wishes to find ways to help make cricket a ‘sport for all.’
“The first thing is to get the papers from last year’s board meetings and get my head around any burning platforms for CA,” she explains. “I am lucky in the sense that (in) my first term we don’t have any major negotiations to go through. The MoU with the players is currently done, (and) the broadcast rights with CA are currently done. So, it means that we can use that time and energy in a number of other areas.”
“We’ve got (a) World Cup year coming up next year— the men’s and the women’s T20— it doesn’t get much bigger than that”. And then, there’s always the ongoing vision of just trying to make cricket as accessible as it possibly can be to everyone in Australia.”
Jones’ appointment has come with a lot of speculation about what portfolio she may carry. The obvious choices would be related to women’s cricket and indigenous participation. As someone with a multi-cultural background, she has often been seen as somewhat of a spokesperson of the same. Although happy to accept any responsibilities given to her, Jones hopes that she is not “pigeonholed” into anything.
“I think that’s (being labelled) the danger sometimes. I think with the board it’s a no-brainer. We’ve seen all the reports and research that diversity is key if you want to make a board really functioning and successful.”
“As my mum keeps reminding me, I tick a lot of the diversity boxes, but you don’t want to get pigeonholed into anything you do— females or multi-cultural, because that’s my background. I’m going to be the voice for them no matter what,” she says.
“There’s a broad scope there for me, I think. Being the new kid on the block, I don’t think I get too much of a choice, but it would be nice to have something that’ll be a little bit out of my range. Then what it does, is actually bring the female voice and the multicultural voice and a different voice to that space as well.”
In addition to all this, as a life member of the Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA), one of Jones’ more pressing jobs would be to help repair relations between CA and the ACA following the pay dispute. The 47-year-old, however, believes that things are already on the mend, with both parties beginning to see eye to eye on many issues.
“Well I can tell you already having spoken to a number of staff, at both CA and the ACA, over the last couple of days, over a variety of different things, that the relationship is pretty much well and truly on track already. I think both groups understood that we’re all working in the same direction of wanting the same things in Australian cricket,” she says. “We might go about it differently, because we see things a little differently at times, but at the end of the day we’re all working towards making cricket successful, and healthy, and enjoyable. I think that’s (the repairing of relations) already started. (I’m) really pleased to say that moving forward we’ll still have robust discussions and debate but surely that’s the best way to find the best solutions.”
Only time will tell the impact that Jones has on Australian cricket (administration) during this period. For now, her elevation to a top position is reason enough to celebrate. With it, comes hope, excitement and possibly much stability— just like her innings on Test debut.