The Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA) has honoured long-serving Board Member, Neil Maxwell, with its highest honour, the Kerry Packer Award.
The Kerry Packer Award provides honorary life membership to the ACA, and is presented to those deemed to have served the ACA in an outstanding capacity and is judged by the ACA Board of Directors and endorsed by a relative of the late Kerry Packer.
On any measure, Maxwell’s service to the ACA and cricket more broadly is outstanding. He served as an ACA Executive and Board member from 2011 to 2020, provided valuable input into the strategic direction of the ACA, including playing a critical role during the challenging 2017 MOU negotiation.
While the 2017 negotiations are remembered by the public largely for their acrimony, the players were unequivocally united not just in maintaining a share of the game’s revenue, but also ensuring an MOU incorporated gender equity and a $30 million fund, funded by the players to benefit grassroots cricket across Australia.
Maxwell says that one of the proudest moments of his time at the ACA is seeing the genuine commitment the players have to see the game grow.
Tim Paine surprises the Blackmans Bay CC Juniors as their stand-in Coach at training for the $30m Grassroots Cricket Fund.
“I love the fact it started with the male players supporting the inclusion of the female players in the Player Payment Pool, and then the female players returning the favour in a difficult time during the MOU.
“The support from the male playing group to bring the females into the revenue sharing arrangement was overwhelming,” he says. “They understood the capacity it has to grow the game more broadly, but also that there must be an investment and a just recognition of what they bring to the game – it wasn’t and isn’t tokenism.”
Maxwell also says the investment back into the grassroots is also not hollow.
“Every player understands where they come from. There is a deep commitment to recognising the local club or school that provided each and every one of us the chance to play first-class cricket. It is a genuine commitment when you think that players sacrifice these monies purely to give back to the system that every member of the ACA has been influenced by.”
Speaking to his experiences in cricket more broadly, Maxwell believes there have been two monumental events in Australian cricket history over the past fifty years.
The first bears the name of the award that he has just been honoured with – Kerry Packer.
The other event to which Maxwell refers hasn’t captured the imagination of the Australian cricket public, but he believes that does not dim its significance.
“And that’s Greg Dyer’s push for a culture review.”
The resulting review – the Longstaff Review, an independent review into the culture of top-level cricket in Australia was compiled by Dr Simon Longstaff of the Ethics Centre.
Maxwell sees the Longstaff Review as one of the means by which the relationship between the players and the administration can be strengthened.
“I think everyone understands just how much a strain the 2017 MOU negotiations put on that relationship,” he says. “But I am proud to have been part of the change that has happened since then to build a really strong bridge between the players and the administration – and I think there has been a real effort on the part of the ACA to build that relationship.”
Maxwell believes that as the game progresses, the partnership between the players and the administration needs to be one of partnership and growth.
“We need to move away from the 150 years of history that has largely been about power and control - that needs to change if the game is going to continue to grow.”
Such a change is supported by the findings in the Longstaff review.
In terms of the growth of the game, Maxwell believes cricket is about to head into a new phase in how it is covered by the media.
“As new forms of media disrupt the conventional, I think the players will have to be prepared to provide broader services as individuals in order to help the game grow,” he says. “I think the next phase or cycle must see the players broaden their thinking and commitment as genuine stakeholders in the game as the evolving broadcast mediums are going to need that. Social media, different forms of content and image rights are going to take on different meanings moving forward."
I would not have been involved with the ACA for so long if I didn’t feel the players had a desire to support and grow the game. And that doesn’t come from simply a personal perspective, but one that has an element of stewardship – one that cares about the health of the game and the state of the game more broadly.Neil Maxwell
Maxwell understands better than most that today’s players see their involvement in the game going beyond earning a living.
“I would not have been involved with the ACA for so long if I didn’t feel the players had a desire to support and grow the game. And that doesn’t come from simply a personal perspective, but one that has an element of stewardship – one that cares about the health of the game and the state of the game more broadly.”
Maxwell says the attitudes of players has evolved since he played for New South Wales and Victoria in the early 1990s.
“There’s three distinct periods. When I started in administration, back in the 80s, playing for New South Wales was a hobby. Then there was an in-between phase where some where earning money and others weren't. If I was to be brutal, I'd say that understandably, there was more of a mercenary attitude of players to survive.”
Maxwell says he’ll never forget Mike Whitney's saying that he’d play his first 10 tests for free, but after that, “you gotta put food on the table”.
‘And now we’re in the third phase where the players are rightly well paid. So, that element of ‘chasing the dollar’ isn’t there as it was before. The players are in a position to care about the overall health of the game.”
Maxwell’s observations speak to the appropriateness of the revenue share, as it recognises the players contribution to the game.
“If you ask me how the attitude of players has changed over that time – and this is not being cruel to those players in the middle phase – we have now transitioned to well paid players which has allowed the true personalities of players that come out, which is definitely more about giving and growing. I'm so pleased to have been on the ACA during this era – it’s so rewarding to see that evolution of the cricketer.”
With this in mind, Maxwell believes that it is not a far-fetched concept, or ideologically impossible that the players and the administrators can't work together. In fact, the opposite is true.
“The irony of the past, is that everyone was arguing the same thing. And that's where the frustration was, because the error in all of this was the lack of communication,” he says. “In terms of the health of the game, we’re in vehement agreement. The irony is that at the time of the dispute, the game was in the strongest financial position it had ever been. Therefore, the dispute was not about money.”
Maxwell often talks about when he first joined the ACA which then had people on the Board such as Mike Hussey, George Bailey and Simon Katich.
“They were and are the most amazing people and clearly had a genuine interest in the health of the game. And when you look at the nine on the board now [with players such as Pat Cummins, Alyssa Healy, Aaron Finch and Moises Henriques] that has continued through.”
Maxwell says he understands that it can be easy to pigeon-hole players as mercenary, but all they want from their profession is what we all want – security, the chance to get a housing loan and all the things that go with having a job and a healthy workplace.
“I think there's a genuine alignment between the players and the administration. We just need to remove the historical baggage, whether it be agendas, politics or personality. But get that out of the way and there’s amazing potential.”