21/04/2024

Christina Matthews’ tenure as WA Cricket CEO has seen the state enjoy a sustained period of on-field dominance. (Photos: Western Australian Cricket Association; Design: Will Cuckson)

WA Cricket’s recent success in the men’s and women’s game has been much to the envy of those beyond its borders. Western Australia has basked in the glory of securing silverware across all three formats, restoring its status as a proud cricketing state. 

Last season alone, WA walked away with its first Sheffield Shield title in 23 years, a third men’s One-Day title in five years, as well as a record-breaking fourth BBL title courtesy of the Perth Scorchers.

Meanwhile, the Scorchers franchise also claimed its maiden WBBL title, a momentous occasion for women’s cricket in the state. 

Whilst WA Cricket has been blessed with an abundance of on-field talent, there has been significant work undertaken behind the scenes which has culminated in a well-oiled sporting organisation. 

Central to these developments has been WA Cricket CEO Christina Matthews. Since her appointment in 2011, Matthews has overseen a shake-up to the organisation’s approaches both on and off field. 

Widely regarded as one of the best sporting administrators in the country, Matthews spoke with The Inner Sanctum about the journey involved in revitalising a dominant force in Australian domestic cricket. 

Building the foundations

Prior to Matthews’ arrival at the end of 2011, WA had been largely starved of success, somewhat in the wilderness within the domestic cricket scene. 

Without a Sheffield Shield title for 12 years and yet to stake claim to a WNCL title since its introduction in 1996-97, WA Cricket appeared to be a shadow of its decorated teams of the past.

Led by Australian cricketing greats Dennis Lillee and Geoff Marsh, WA was a force to be reckoned with during the 1980s. The state had also enjoyed terrific success in the late 1990s, headlined by the likes of Adam Gilchrist, Michael Hussey, and Damien Martyn. 

However, the challenges presented to an incoming CEO also extended off-the-field. The historic WACA ground was in desperate need of redevelopment and concerns over culture had been thrown into the spotlight. 

It was a testing time on multiple fronts, one which required strong leadership and a clear vision for the future.

Matthews recalls some honest conversations within the four walls of the organisation regarding the need for a cultural shift. 

“Obviously when you first come somewhere you’re not really always aware of what the culture of the environment might be. It wasn’t long before I realised that there were some culture issues within our organisation,” Matthews told The Inner Sanctum.

“It was a matter of then working out initially with the staff how they wanted to be perceived, what they wanted to look like, and also working with the right coaches and high-performance people with our teams about what we expected and what we’d be doing to ensure that they had everything they need to be the best players they can be.

“There’s never one silver bullet for anything. It’s about looking at the jigsaw you’ve got in front of you and making sure all the pieces come together.

“But culture is a really important part of that and people understanding what’s expected of them and who’s accountable within all those things.”

Maintaining this synergy between administration and those looking after on-field performance has been a vital feature of WA’s ability to consistently challenge for silverware over the past decade. However, Matthews believes that achieving success is a culmination of multiple factors.

“I think the key to any success is getting the culture right, the strategy and the right people in the right places,” she continued.

“All of those things combined give you a good basis on which to launch success, and that covers I suppose as an organisation, but also in the high-performance sphere.

“You’ve got to know what you’re doing, and you’ve got to have the right people, which then allows the players to do what they need to do on the field.”

Creating winning cultures

Almost a year since assuming WA Cricket’s top job, Matthews would go on to appoint Justin Langer as the head coach of the formerly known Western Warriors and BBL franchise Perth Scorchers. 

The decision would prove to be a defining moment in WA’s path to rediscovering its cricket identity. It also represented a significant changing of the guard, with Adam Voges later replacing Marcus North as captain across all three formats. 

Together Langer and Voges would become driving forces in a new dawn for WA Cricket. 

Reflecting on Langer’s appointment, Matthews says that it became quickly apparent that he was the right person to lead WA’s men’s program forward.

“We had a big culture problem within the first nine months that I was here. We had to have a pretty big change-over of captain, coach, everything,” she said.

“I had never met Justin personally before, but I knew that he had a great desire to coach WA, so I called him up and said, ‘let’s have a chat’.

“I knew the sort of culture that I wanted to develop and within five minutes of speaking to Justin I knew that we were on the same page. That meant he and I could talk and see where we’re at, and I didn’t have to worry, I knew he was the man who was going to bring the male players on the journey.”

What followed was a drastic shift in the state’s on-field fortunes. Langer helped guide WA to two One-Day Cup titles (2014-15 and 2017-18) and back-to-back Sheffield Shield final appearances during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 campaigns.

Perhaps best remembered however is the golden period of success enjoyed in the BBL, with the Perth Scorchers securing three BBL titles (2013-14, 2014-15 and 2016-17) under Langer’s tutelage. 

Suddenly, WA Cricket had recaptured the admiration of its fans and the broader Australian cricket community, a far-cry from its once precarious position. 

Justin Langer oversaw three BBL titles during his coaching tenure with the Perth Scorchers. (Photo: Perth Scorchers)

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Coaching transition

Langer’s coaching feats in his home state would ultimately be recognised at a national level. In May 2018 he became coach of the Australian Men’s Cricket Team, again tasked with the responsibility of rebuilding a team embroiled in controversy. 

For Matthews and her team, it was now a matter of finding the most suitable candidate to fill the vacancy. 

The search didn’t have to extend far, with former WA captain Adam Voges waiting in the wings. Having previously worked closely with WA’s U/19 side in a mentor capacity, Voges already possessed an intricate understanding of the environment he was now entering into as head coach.

Matthews explains that Voges shares many of the same core values as Langer, yet still offers a completely distinct coaching style to his predecessor. 

“In Adam’s case, we knew that it was probably a year too early for him to become coach,” she said.

“But circumstances for Justin changed and he was called up to the Australian team, so it was a matter of working with Adam to help him understand what he needed to become as a coach, as opposed to being a player.

“It’s been very exciting working with Adam and seeing him grow and take on the challenges of a changing cricket environment.”

Adam Voges (left) and Justin Langer (right) have contributed to WA’s men’s teams both on and off the field. (Photo: WA Cricket)

Since assuming the head coaching role, Voges has helped WA reach further heights in the men’s game, building upon the stable platform established by Langer. 

Headlined by WA’s first Sheffield Shield triumph in 23 years, Voges led his troops to a rare treble across all formats of the game last season. This added to a One-Day Cup title achieved in 2019-20. 

He has now visibly forged his own coaching legacy, rewarding the faith placed in him by Matthews and co. 

This smooth coaching transition wasn’t merely a case of good fortune, but rather a by-product of careful planning and forward-thinking. 

“Part of any strong organisation I think and being able to sustain success is understanding how you do your succession planning and who you’re bringing in behind the people who are there now,” Matthews said. 

“It’s a testament to Justin and Adam that over the past 10 and a half years we’ve been able to maintain a position of on-field success for the most part.”

WA celebrate winning the 2021-22 Sheffield Shield following a draw with Victoria. (Photo: WA Cricket)

The growth of women’s cricket

Matthews’ journey in cricket is of course not just limited to her exploits in WA. As Australia’s most capped women’s Test cricketer, she has also been a pioneer in the women’s game on the field. 

Having represented Australia on 67 occasions, Matthews knows what it takes to reach the elite level. Post playing days, she then performed numerous roles associated with the Australian Women’s Cricket Team, including as team manager, assistant coach, and chair of the National Selection Panel. 

Committed to growing women’s cricket in WA, Matthews sought to steer the organisation on a path capable of delivering its first piece of WNCL silverware since the competition’s introduction in 1996-97.

“We had a real challenge here in WA. We didn’t have a good base of female players playing,” she explained.

“We had a state team that didn’t have any success at all, and we were pretty much operating on just the raw numbers of players we had to play for us in a state team.”

However, through significant time and dedication spent enhancing the women’s program, WA would finally reap a tangible reward, clinching its maiden WNCL title during the 2019-20 campaign.  

Matthews explains that elevating women’s cricket in WA entailed a multi-faceted approach.

“There were two parts to that. One was sitting down with our staff and talking about how we create a strategic plan for the development of girls at a participation level,” she said.

“One of the problems with the women’s game was it ebbed and flowed on the passion of a person running it in any state or at Cricket Australia.

“I wanted to create an environment where it became business as usual, not a special project.

“The other part was building a genuine high-performance pathway for girls leading into the senior program. That takes an awful lot of time when you’re starting from scratch and over the last two years, we’ve been able to build on that.”

Victory over the NSW Breakers in the 2019-20 WNCL final landed WA its first title in the competition’s history. (Photo: WA Cricket)

The introduction of the WBBL ahead of the 2015-16 season offered an added platform for women’s cricket to be broadcasted on a larger scale. It also served as a valuable opportunity to combine home-grown talent with some of the game’s best international players.

“The WBBL has been great because it’s allowed us to bring in experienced players which we were lacking to help the locals understand what high-performance looks like,” Matthews said.

“We’ve been able to have reasonable success at WBBL, making two finals… and then finally winning the third.”

The Perth Scorchers defeated the Adelaide Strikers at Optus Stadium to become champions of WBBL|07. (Photo: Perth Scorchers)

A commitment to inclusion and diversity

Beyond just titles and silverware, WA Cricket has also reshaped its identity off-the-field. Led by Matthews, the organisation now seeks to embody inclusivity and equality in its operations. 

A testament to her contributions to cricket in WA, Matthews was named Western Australian of the Year in 2019. In many respects, Matthews has been a trailblazer for other women to command executive leadership roles within the sporting sphere.

Since landing WA Cricket’s top job, Olivia Thornton was appointed the CEO of Cricket ACT, joining Matthews as the only female chief executives amongst the other cricket states.

Meanwhile, Michelle Enright currently occupies the role of CEO of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Australia 2022 Local Organising Committee.

Matthews believes that the representation of women holding senior positions within sporting organisations is gradually increasing. 

“It’s starting to get a little bit of depth, but like anything, you’ve got to build the pipeline. You’ve got to have people coming through,” she said.

“I’ve been pleased about that here. We’ve got equal representation on our leadership team of males and females, we’ve got 44 percent female staff, our middle management is now up to 38 percent.”

“These things don’t happen by accident. They’ve got to be a deliberate strategy of businesses and sport to want to do this.”

In a traditionally male-dominated industry, Matthews has helped forge a path for more women to become involved in cricket administration. (Photo: WA Cricket)

Looking ahead

With the 2022-23 Australian domestic cricket season imminent, all attention now turns towards replicating the feats of years gone by. 

The Western Australia Men’s squad paints a picture of stability, with pace bowler Liam Guthrie the only departure from last season’s contracted players. On the women’s side, a huge boost comes in the form of Beth Mooney, who joins spinner Lily Mills to leave Queensland and head west. 

All signs point to another genuine tilt at silverware. Yet Matthews remains acutely aware of the need to continually evolve to sustain success.

“One of the first things is making sure that you celebrate your success, but having worked so hard to get it, it’s making sure everybody recognises that it won’t happen automatically. We all have to go up a level to keep that success going,” she said.

“Both sides have had pretty good pre-seasons and we’ll know in and around the first games if we’ve mentally got ourselves to the point we need to keep pushing for greater success.

“But all things have been put in place to help that happen and from here on in it will come down to the mental application of the playing groups.”

Western Australia Women begin their WNCL 2022-23 campaign this Friday against the ACT Meteors, whilst Western Australia Men commence their Marsh One-Day Cup title defence on Sunday against Victoria. 

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