The Channel Ten BBL and WBBL commentator and former Australian player on women in cricket and the IPL “circus”. By Richard Cooke.
Voice of wisdom: Mel Jones, 45, cricket commentator
The first time I was asked to commentate, I said no. It’s kind of weird. I got dropped from the Australian team, and happened to be over in England, catching up with family and doing a bit of work. Sky Sports – that was when they first started televising women’s cricket – asked if I wanted to commentate on the game.
It was still a bit raw. It was a team that I wanted to be playing in, and a series match. I thought it would all be a bit too hard. Then they said they were going to pay me 300 quid, and I said, “Tell me the place, the time, what you want me to wear.” We didn’t even get paid back then, playing for Australia.
Last year, I was commentating more on men’s cricket than women’s cricket. Dave Barham, who’s head of cricket at Channel Ten, has been an absolute superstar. He asked if I’d be interested in doing lead commentary on the men’s game, so I did a couple last year, and more this year.
I’ve now been all over the world. I went from Big Bash to the Pakistan Super League, which was based in Dubai last year. Then Women’s World Cup, which was in England. The Caribbean Premier League, over the West Indies, which is all the men’s T20. Then back again for this summer. Hotels, you find, are pretty much the same all around the world. The different cultures and countries are not.
I went to the West Indies for the first time. My dad is from Trinidad, so I met family for the first time over there. My dad lived in London since the mid ’50s, and he’s hardly ever been back. I suppose you’re a bit nervous. You don’t know what these people are going to be like. But these were three amazing women. Very strong and independent.
Commentating doesn’t make me miss playing. I thoroughly enjoy the job for what it is. And that’s hopefully an ability for me to relay to people not just what’s going on, on the ground, but what’s going on around the players, and what they’ll be feeling; the atmosphere.
It’s great to be able to see how other commentators go about it. Men, women, Australians, Indian commentators – they all sort of bring a slightly different approach. To have three different commentators on there seeing it three different ways because of their experiences and backgrounds – that’s a nice way, I think, to watch sport. Or watch anything.
It’s a massively changing landscape for women’s sport. For women in sport in general – across the board. You know you’re almost at the coalface because of the wonderful world of social media. You could get the most appreciative message in the world, and then the next one could be just the most hostile and disgusting message, within 30 seconds of each other.
Some people just don’t like change, and they’re happy to voice that. For people like myself and Lisa Sthalekar here in Australia, and a variety of women commentators in cricket around the world, we’ve got our own little WhatsApp group at the moment, just to chat through these kinds of incidents. Because you’ve got to remain strong and find a way of combating the negativity, and ensuring you stay focused and give each other support. It’s not just the women on tour. The guys do that as well.
The IPL is a cricket circus. I mean that in a good way. It’s Bollywood meets sport – you’ve got franchise owners who are followed by hundreds of millions of people on Twitter and the like. So you have all this glitz and glamour. You have the best cricketers in the world playing there.
It’s an adventure every day. Something new and different is always happening. Then the crowds are just ridiculously amazing. They will pack out a 40,000-seat stadium in Hyderabad in 43-degree heat and 90 per cent humidity in the middle of the day, and the noise level will be consistent from ball one through to the end. They are just so engrossed in the game. It’s not like other countries where the crowd will just cheer a boundary.
Something I found out the hard way? Commentary boxes don’t have women’s toilets nearby. Particularly in countries outside of Australia. Sometimes they’re the farthest away. No one, when they were designing these places, ever really thought of females in that media space.
The world of freelance work is scary, I guess, in a way. You’ve gone from a full-time job where your life is safe and secure to putting yourself out there to say, “I’m here and available.” You just don’t know. As much as I’m loving it, it’s still a nervous lifestyle to lead as well.
This week’s highlights…
• Tennis: Davis Cup – Australia v Germany
Saturday, 1pm; Sunday, midday (AEST), Pat Rafter Arena, Brisbane
• AFLW: Adelaide Crows v Brisbane Lions
Saturday, 6.45pm (ACDT), Norwood Oval, Adelaide
• Cricket: T20 International – Australia v New Zealand
Saturday, 7.20pm (AEDT), Sydney Cricket Ground
• Soccer: W-League – Newcastle Jets v Melbourne City
Saturday, 8.15pm (AEDT), McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
• Cycling: Jayco Herald Sun Tour, stage 4
Sunday, 11.45am (AEDT), Kinglake, Victoria
• American football: Super Bowl 52 – New England Patriots v Philadelphia Eagles
Monday, 10.30am (AEDT), US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minnesota
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 3, 2018 as "Voice of wisdom".
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