Cricket: Dykes: a safe pair of hands

Otago Cricket Association chief executive Ross Dykes will retire at the end of  his 10th season....
Otago Cricket Association chief executive Ross Dykes will retire at the end of his 10th season. Photo by Gregor Richardson.

It has always been about the cricket for Ross Dykes.

The 69-year-old Otago Cricket Association chief executive will retire from his post at the end of the summer.

The former Auckland gloveman was a safe pair of hands in his playing days and has proven exactly that as an administrator.

When he assumed the role nine years ago, he inherited cricket teams down on their luck, a fledgling domestic venue with a reputation for having a dodgy pitch and a financial situation that was challenging.

He could have listed the University Oval's continued development and its reputation as a fine international venue as one of the major achievements of his tenure.

He might have even mentioned his astute financial stewardship as well.

With support from an experienced team and a competent board, Dykes has helped the association negotiate the worst of the global financial crisis.

They are all fine achievements but for Dykes, the greatest thrill of all has been the cricket.

Watching players such as Suzie Bates develop from a promising teenager into one of the best batsmen in the world was hugely rewarding.

Last season, the Sparks won their first national trophy in 51 years.

And who can forget Brendon McCullum's wonderful innings during the 2007-08 one-day final.

His magnificent knock of 170 helped the province claim its first title in 20 years.

With titles come respect and, arguably, the cricket programme was struggling on that front.

''I think the highlight for me has been the credibility Otago cricketers have got in the time I've been here,'' Dykes said.

''The fact we've gone from no Black Caps to six or seven and just generally the way our cricketers have lifted themselves domestically and, in some cases, internationally. To be part of that has been hugely satisfying.''

Dykes signalled his intention to step down about a year ago. He expects his last day in the job will be sometime in April.

''It is time. I still enjoy the job but I think you can be in too long.

"Age should never be the ultimate factor but I'm certainly not young any more and I think I'm ready to perhaps do something less than 40 hours a week.''

Dykes and his wife, Sue, own a property in Wanaka and have not finalised what they will do when he retires.

But with four children and three grandchildren all living in Auckland, ''that is probably where we will end up''.

He hopes to stay involved in cricket in some small way and will continue to follow the game.

Whoever receives the baton from Dykes will have some hurdles ahead.

''Otago and Southland are 7% of the population and dropping. We are asked to be an equal association but with 7% of the population, it is always going to be a battle.''

Funding is not getting easier. And as the Volts have generated more Black Caps, finding replacements has got harder.

It is also important to keep developing the University Oval and attracting international fixtures.

Dykes would like to the see the ground's capacity increase, through either larger embankments or temporary seating.

There is also a need for more outdoor training facilities, but the next major project for the incoming chief executive to tackle would be to secure lights.

''We've got to keep on the front foot in terms of maintaining our presence internationally.

''If we don't get lights before Christchurch, then our significance as an international venue will reduce markedly.''

Dykes is convinced we will see night tests in New Zealand in the next five years.

By starting tests in the afternoon, you increase the potential television audience you can reach in overseas markets.

That makes touring here a more attractive proposition from a marketing point of view.

Quality lights are crucial in ensuring the standard of cricket played remains high.

''We have to go out of our way to keep up with the Joneses and make sure we have the facilities and the ability to host the modern-day sort of cricket.''

The University Oval is unlikely to be lit up any time soon, though.

Otago cricket was quoted $2 million for permanent lights about six months ago.

It is prohibitively expensive, Dykes said.

''It is not a project Otago cricket could do on its own. We will need support from our partners and among those partners are the Dunedin City Council.

''Right at the minute they have not got the appetite for it. So we've got to bide our time and prioritise other things.''

The other big challenge facing the association, one faced by sport in general, is ensuring the base remains solid.

Cricket's grass roots are withering and showing no signs of recovering.

In 1988, there were 59 men's teams but that number has dropped to 33 this summer.

''It is a concern and I'm sure it is a concern for every sport because we would not be unique in having dwindling numbers,'' Dykes said.

''What we need to be aware of is people's lifestyles are changing and therefore we've got to change the sort of sport we deliver.

''It maybe Thursday night twilight. It may be Saturday mornings for the kids and a hit around on Sunday for other different groups.

''We are going to find it harder to have the breeding ground for cricketers we have had in the past, but we'll never be short of cricketers provided we are agile and alert and provide what they want.''

While the challenges are great, so are the rewards. His one piece of advice for his eventual replacement: ''Have fun and make sure you enjoy it.''

''The greatest thing about this job is you're doing what you like to do and what you enjoy.

"It's fun and I want to make sure that everybody involved in cricket down here has fun.''

 

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