Jacquie Hey: 'On behalf of all women, I'm sorry,' for not becoming Cricket Australia chair

Jacquie Hey was a strong contender to be chair of CA, but she did not want to give up all her other roles Getty Images

Jacquie Hey joined the Cricket Australia board on the same day as David Peever and Kevin Roberts in October 2012.

Eight years later, she is the only member of the trio leaving on her own terms, after Peever was deposed as chairman in the wake of the CA's cultural review in 2018, and Roberts found himself compelled to resign as chief executive as a series of fractured relationships in the game caught up with him in the time of Covid-19.

By contrast, Hey is leaving CA with her reputation enhanced. But the rise of the women's game on her watch ran parallel to a rise in Australian corporate circles that left her ultimately too busy to become the governing body's first female chair. Instead, Hey is chair of Bendigo and Adelaide Banks and a director of Qantas, among other Australia Stock Exchange listed companies.

There will, then, always be an imponderable about how CA might have fared if Hey had assumed a greater position of leadership in the game instead of Peever or Roberts. Speaking on the occasion of her departure, she offers an explanation of competing priorities and instincts, with an apology on behalf of women in the game that she did not choose to take on the chair.

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"One part of me would've loved to be chair of CA, it would've been such a privilege, and it is a privilege for anyone who's held that role, and particularly as a woman, one part of me desperately wanted to do it," Hey told ESPNcricinfo. "The other, sensible side, said I'm an ASX director on three or four boards and I would've had to give them all up to do the job, because it's a pretty full-on and full-time job.

"So it wasn't that I didn't want to be, it was just that I also wanted to do everything else I'm doing and it wouldn't have all fit. So I did go through that, two parts of my brain saying yes do it, but no you have to give up everything else you love doing. So would I love to have done it? I would've. Was I prepared to give up everything else that I was doing to do it? No I wasn't, and there were other really capable candidates to do it. So I felt like that was okay. But on behalf of all women, I'm sorry."

When Hey joined the CA board, it was part of a sweeping reform that ended more than a century of representative governance by as many as 14 directors from CA's six state association owners. Hey, Peever and Roberts were described as "captains of industry", and from the top of the organisation she was able to help bring about a seismic shift in the women's game. By May 2013, CA was unveiling professional contracts for the women's national team, and the same spirit of bold steps informed the decision to shoot for a standalone T20 World Cup.

"The toughest things were the Phil Hughes impact and the press conferences the three players had to give when they returned from South Africa. They were the things that brought me to tears"

"I think it was about five years before that, we decided we would have the standalone women's final, and then the next thing we were thinking about was where would we have it. Fairly quickly the board came to why wouldn't we be able to fill the MCG," she said. "We've got five years to think about it, the women's game is growing, we've got great ambassadors playing the game, why not. Then of course the closer it got, the more nervous everyone got about 'are we going to get there' and to see that on that night, was just stunning.

"To see the support for women's sport generally and particularly for cricket, it's hard to not see that as a highlight. The other one is the growth in kids playing cricket and the way they're playing it, with the shorter pitches and the smaller grounds and the different rules. There's fun back into it, they're not being discouraged before they get to understand how great this game is, and that's both boys and girls. They're probably my two highlights, but sitting at the MCG on March 8 was pretty fantastic."

As much as those moves, plus the introduction of the WBBL, required decisive thinking, Hey also earned respect among fellow administrators for applying a level of humility to the game that is not always common among its largely male corridors of power. Her salient advice for any would-be directors is to do everything possible to avoid assuming you know what you're getting into.

"I've loved cricket all my life, I played cricket, I've been to cricket, I've hung around at clubs, I've played indoor cricket, so I knew all that, but that's not the extent of what it means to be on a board," she said. "Being on a board you need to have all that, plus you need to understand the financial aspects of it, you need to understand what are the levers that make kids play cricket, what are the important things for high performance, how does international cricket work, there was a whole lot of learning for me.

"So my personal view is anyone joining a board, should join it with a mind that says I need to learn, I need to listen, and I need to contribute, but I need to do all of those things. If anyone's joining a board thinking they know it all, I'd say that's a problem"

That being said, Hey freely admits that the increasingly corporatised CA board had some harsh lessons of its own, starting with the pay dispute with the Australian Cricketers Association in 2016-17, in which Peever and Roberts pushed to break up the fixed revenue percentage model that underpinned the MoU with the players. Passions unleashed in that episode, as the players went out of contract for more than a month before CA backed down, have stayed in Hey's mind.

"The fantastic thing about being involved in sport is you get to deal with a whole range of people who are incredibly passionate about the subject," she said. "But with passion comes all sorts of excitement and concerns and opinions and that is slightly, not necessarily absent from ASX boards, but I think when you get to the sporting arena it goes up a notch and that's really part of the fun of being involved in sport and certainly cricket."

In March 2018, Hey can remember being asleep at the time the Newlands ball tampering scandal began to unfold, but rising early to take her son to junior sport, she had just enough time to take in a few headlines and videos before her phone began to ring incessantly.

It did not stop while she chaired the CA subcommittee that oversaw the cultural review and led ultimately to a fiery press conference at the MCG when Hey had to step in numerous times to aid her embattled chairman Peever. Within days he had been removed via the withdrawal of the NSW chairman John Knox's support. It's an episode Hey deems "traumatic", but not as hard as it was to work through the death of Phillip Hughes, or watch the tearful returns of Steven Smith, Cameron Bancroft and David Warner from South Africa.

"The toughest things were the Phil Hughes impact and the press conferences the three players had to give when they returned from South Africa. They were the things that brought me to tears. The press conference was a bit traumatising, but it didn't bring me to tears," Hey said. "It was something I needed to do, that I wanted to do, and on behalf of cricket we had to do. I didn't find that as traumatising or tough as some of those other things that really tugged at my heartstrings and made me feel bad."

Looking at the outcomes of the review, Hey said that it had equipped CA with better machinery to deal and communicate better with the states and the ACA, but also informed the attitude required behind those relationships and others.

"In a federated structure we're not always going to agree all the time, and that's healthy too," she says. "I think we have a much more healthy, open relationship and a much better level of trust and discussion. There are occasional things that are confidential, but they're a lot of things that are not confidential within the game of cricket and I think we've been better about talking about those."

At the time Earl Eddings took up Peever's post as chairman, Hey was talked up as a viable alternative, but by then was well on the way to chairing Bendigo and Adelaide Banks. Asked whether she thinks Eddings should get another term as chairman next year, Hey sidesteps deftly, leaving it to the board she is leaving behind. But on the subject of Peever and Roberts, she offers hope that they have not lost love for cricket by departing their custodial roles in far less amiable circumstances than she is.

"I think when you get a chance to be involved in the game, there's always the love for it that you had going on and I'm sure when you're going out," Hey said. "I'll leave them to talk about it, but I'm sure they have as deep a love for the game as ever, and that's important. We do this because we all love the game."