Ahead of the first ever WBBL television broadcasts this weekend, we catch up with commentator Mel ‘MJ’ Jones to find out why cricket has something on offer for everyone.
by Taryn Elder
It’s hard to not divide a room when it comes to discussing the enjoyment factor of cricket. There are plenty of people quick to label the game as ‘boring’ or ‘too hard to understand’. Old men sitting around an oval drinking 'tinnies' watching a little ball being hit, as my friend once described it, with the occasional seagull trolling the field and disrupting the state of play.
Then there are those who appreciate the technicality of the sport. The skill, fitness and exciting atmosphere that seems to draw you in. Those that understand the major leaps (onwards and upwards as they say) the game has made to accommodate for fans - particularly those of younger generations - in an increasingly fast-paced world.
To settle the score, or to at least get some outside perspective, I decided to hit up former Australian cricketer, turned media commentator and professional athlete player manager Melanie 'MJ' Jones for a coffee date, to ask her if cricket has progressed in being a sport loved by all.
Mel started her career in the late eighties and has certainly seen the game evolve over the last 30 years. She also has an understanding of the commercial aspect of the game thanks to her current player manager role with TLA Worldwide, a large talent management agency with an office in her hometown of Melbourne.
For Mel, her love affair with cricket started at grassroots level… cue nostalgic music.
“Nan and Pa’s backyard in Rutherglen. Every school holidays was spent up there with male cousins. If you hooked the ball into Nan’s chook shed you were out for the summer.”
Although Mel talks about her start in the sport comically, her career is anything but. She was part of two World Cup winning teams with the Southern Stars (Australia's national women's team), including the 1997 campaign in India where she played in front of 80,00 cricket fans, and another at Eden Gardens (one of India's largest cricket stadiums) in 2005. She was also part of two Ashes campaigns, a pretty big deal for someone who use to play the sport ‘just for fun’.
So the big question…has the game progressed much over the past few decades and can anyone enjoy a game?
“It’s changed massively. The difference even between 2005 to now is huge, especially for females. We have a situation where females are playing at a professional level and it’s brilliant. There are opportunities arising, especially in regards to the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) and the Women’s Super League in England launching next year, things are changing dramatically. “
For those not already on the Big Bash League (BBL) bandwagon, it’s a relatively new format of domestic cricket (the men’s league up and running since 2011,) that’s all about bringing entertainment to the game, on and off the field. Cue… fast paced games that span about three hours, fireworks, entertainment and super hero characters. Mel thinks these initiatives have been mighty helpful in luring a whole new generation or cricket fans.
“The BBL is really exciting, it has a lot of entertainment value, a new style of cricket, lots happening on and off the field and it's bringing a whole new type of fan to the game.”
To add to the excitement, this summer a number of WBBL games will also be broadcast on OneHD, with Channel 10 taking the leap in helping to make elite women’s cricket more mainstream. Mel will be playing a huge part in this coverage as one of the new league's lead commentators.
“Part of me really wants to keep a lid on it, but inside me everything is bubbling away. It’s an absolute game changer having women’s domestic cricket on TV over the summer. This will help to shape the future of the game. Encourage girls to get into the game at a grass roots level.”
Mel is in no way a newcomer when it comes to throwing her hat in the ring for expert commentating duties, having already spent time in the Channel Nine commentary box during female international matches featuring the Southern Stars. She was also one of a group of four women selected as part of the commentary for the Indian Premier League (IPL) earlier this year, which is a huge deal! Think millions and millions of cricket fans all around the world hanging on every word you say.... No pressure.
And after 30 years of cricket is Mel still as passionate about cricket as when she first started?
"Absolutely, I still love cricket and club cricket for me is still a great passion. That’s where you can really enjoy the “playing” element of cricket/sport. People of all levels and abilities just out there doing their best and having a laugh along the way. I still have a strong connection at Essendon Maribyrnong Park, which is actually the oldest women’s cricket club in the world.”
Keep up to date with the WBBL coverage by following Mel Jones on Twitter: https://twitter.com/meljones