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Katy Perry call prepped cricket for COVID

The first time Nick Hockley was alerted to the seriousness of the coronavirus it was pop star Katy Perry’s manager down the line.

“She was five months pregnant,” the now Cricket Australia CEO recalls.

“He goes: ‘Have you heard about this coronavirus, have you got any concerns’?

“I remember saying no, no concerns.

“We’d kind of heard through the early stage of the (Women’s Twenty20 World Cup) that there was something happening.

“Something coming out of China and affecting Europe, but we didn’t really give it too much thought.”

Hockley’s where-were-you-when moment is like that of most Australians.

A virus was threatening to destabilise the world while the majority still blissfully believed the storm would soon pass overseas.

What is clear is Hockley’s professional career has since been a never-ending battle to contend with the pandemic.

In many ways, COVID-19 has been the making of Hockley.

And so too were the months immediately after the phone call from Perry’s management in the lead-up to her performance at the World Cup final in front of a record crowd of 86,174 at the MCG.

Still the CEO of the T20 World Cup at the time, Hockley’s initial job was to ensure the 2020 men’s edition was not cancelled.

Then, out of the blue, he was thrown into the role as CEO role of CA after Kevin Roberts’ financial projections through COVID-19 fell flat.

Immediately there was an uncertain summer looming in addition to a battle with a free-to-air broadcaster.

“(Those few months of planning with the T20 World Cup) did help,” Hockley said.

“Because we were speaking to a lot of experts, a lot of epidemiologists, trying to predict how this would all unfold and play out.

“Having three months to work with our government partners, the ICC, speaking to experts. It definitely helped.”

By his nature Hockley is a different figure to the likes of powerhouse sporting administrators Peter V’landys and Gillon McLachlan.

Therefore he won’t get the same plaudits they have for keeping their sports running during the pandemic.

However, it shouldn’t be overlooked that since the start of the pandemic CA has only postponed one game on home soil.

While the decision to pull out of Australia’s Test tour of South Africa was heavily criticised when CA claimed protocols weren’t detailed enough, there has barely been such issue at home.

Last year’s Perth Test featuring Afghanistan has been the only one postponed through COVID-19, while this summer’s Optus Stadium Ashes clash has moved to Hobart.

The Sydney Test was somehow saved last summer during the northern beaches outbreak, while also ensuring India went to the Gabba for the series finale.

A brief India women’s series was postponed last summer with the ODI World Cup pushed back in New Zealand, but that resulted in a Test as well as white-ball fixtures this season.

CA also did what the AFL and NRL couldn’t with their major women’s competitions.

It managed to get through a full Women’s BBL as scheduled with a $3.5 million outlay for a full hub in Sydney last summer as well as further quarantine stays this year.

“I am proudest that we kept the women’s stuff going,” Hockley said.

“The first international series (of any sport) to be hosted here was New Zealand women when they came over and played in Brisbane.

“What people also don’t really appreciate is that we’ve got three formats of the game.

“Then with that there is female, male, domestic and international.”

Issues in the domestic game have almost been the most complex, due to border crossings, overseas imports and players coming in and out of squads.

“The Big Bash is just seriously complicated,” Hockley said.

“In footy you probably have the cadence of a week, where in the Big Bash you are playing a game every two-and-a-half days.

“Logistically it’s way more complicated. There is no room for movement or error.”

Crucially too, the pandemic could not have come at a worse time for CA.

Back-to-back home summers against India and England are their most lucrative.

Both visiting nations have been living in different COVID-19 worlds to Australia, where a sudden lockdown and change in restrictions over a minimal number of cases seem unfathomable and nonsensical.

That in particular was evident in both the Sydney Test dramas last year, as well as England’s initial resistance for this summer before Hockley fronted a virtual hook up with the tourists.

Still though, he labels last summer as the greater achievement, measurable by the relief at CA headquarters when India’s squad was confirmed as on the plane.

“If I think about the BCCI, normally you would have one or two calls in the months leading up,” Hockley said.

“You would exchange some correspondence around tour dates and speak to the travel agent about VISA applications.

“Whereas we were doing daily zoom calls for four months. And then probably three times a day towards the end.”

Hockley, like most, would like to think this summer is the last that he has to contend with coronavirus.

That he can now work with players on topics they are passionate about, such as climate change with Pat Cummins and cultural diversity with Usman Khawaja, must be a relief.

But the same hope was expressed last season, and there was a time in May when this summer’s schedule was released and Australia was almost COVID-19 free.

“Before this, I worked in emerging acquisitions and did long hours,” Hockley said.

“And then on the (2012) Olympic Games, which people refer to that as the most complex logistical exercise in peace time.

“But this, the last 18 months for our team, has just been at a different level.”

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