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Mel Jones: ‘If you’re after a quiet day, you’re probably in the wrong job’

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Moments after Chris Woakes crashed Mitchell Starc through point to clinch England’s three-wicket win in the third men’s Ashes Test at Headingley, Ian Ward turned to Mel Jones at the start of Sky Sports’ analysis of another breathless session. “You’re not allowed a day off,” Ward told Jones, “because wherever you go, we get this.”

Jones’ voice has been a constant of Sky’s commentary this Ashes summer, across both men’s and women’s series. She has had a relentless schedule over the last five weeks, covering as much of both series as has been logistically possible. She will miss the Old Trafford Test this week for a short break but either side of that, she will be in Taunton and south London for the finale of both series.

“I pinch myself, daily,” Jones tells ESPNcricinfo, interrupting a rare day off. “I never coveted or planned to do the job that I now have, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s an absolute privilege to be thinking that I’ve got a prime seat in two of the best Ashes series that we’re probably going to have.”

During the rain delay on the third day of the Headingley Test, Jones raced down to London for the third women’s T20I at Lord’s – then was back in Leeds the following morning. “I wasn’t down to do it initially, but the two producers put it in my hands. When it rained, it felt like the cricketing gods telling me I’d made the right decision. If you’re after a quiet day, you’re probably in the wrong job.”

Jones played 66 times for Australia during her eight-year international career, but it was being dropped that set her on course for life after cricket. In 2001, she was not part of the Australia squad for an Ashes tour to England but was playing for Surrey, and working for the club in a developmental role. “Sky and the ECB had just started a broadcast deal, and they televised one women’s game per summer,” Jones explains.

“They asked me to commentate and in my head, I thought, ‘That’s just rubbing salt into the wound, for a game I want to be playing in.’ Then they told me it was £300, so I said, ‘Tell me when, where and what to wear.’ Back then, we weren’t paid [to play] – so I was paid more than every single player collectively that day.”

Jones won her place back the following Australian summer but playing in the amateur era meant working alongside as a teacher and in cricket development. After her playing career, she worked as an athlete manager at a sports management company but continued to take up commentary opportunities and became an established voice within an increasingly professional women’s game.

In 2015, she was one of four female commentators at the Indian Premier League, and two years later, she decided to “give it a crack” on a full-time basis. “It was hectic for the first couple of years,” Jones reflects. “I knew I was going into a male-dominated world and I thought, ‘Am I going to get enough work?’ So I said ‘yes’ to every opportunity.

“For those first few years, I averaged about eight months away from home. I just thought, ‘I have to take this while it’s there.’ And honestly, I was like a pig in mud: most people would give their kidney and left arm if it meant they could travel the world, watching cricket and working with some fantastic people.”

And Jones has become increasingly established as a prominent broadcaster, a voice associated with major events and big moments. She cites several colleagues – Ian Bishop, Alan Wilkins, Danny Morrison, and the producer Mike O’Dwyer – as positive influences, but those who have worked with her say she is among the hardest-working people in the industry.

“MOD [O’Dwyer] always talked about the Es: engaging, entertaining, educating. I try to keep that at the back of my mind. I don’t want to try and be anyone else, but you’ve also got to remember that it’s an entertainment game and bring that through. My mum knows nothing of the sport – still! – and if she’s watching, I want her to walk away from that having learned something.”

Cricket commentary boxes are almost unrecognisable from 20 years ago, with a far broader range of voices which has doubtless changed coverage of the game for the better. Yet those broadcasters who have embodied that change have had to contend with a barrage of abuse, which Jones admits can take its toll.

“It goes in waves, and I tick a few boxes here. So there’s definitely a colour piece, and it depends on what country you’re in; sometimes there’s also definitely a gender piece as well. We’re all human: if you said that it doesn’t get to you on some sort of level, I’d worry about myself.”

During the innings break of the first women’s ODI last week, Jones led a discussion around misogyny within the game, revealing that she was recently contacted by Victoria Police about a man who had been abusing her on social media and calling a hotline to complain about her being on air due to her gender.

“Sport is a wonderful vehicle for social change,” Jones says. “As soon as you start speaking about social justice with cricket, that stirs the nest with certain people. You’ve just got to manage your energy levels on how you engage at different stages: sometimes they might be really high and I’ll be quite vocal on a few things; if you’re travelling around the country and your energy levels are low, you might just choose another time.”

In reality, Jones’ different perspective to many of her colleagues is a strength. “We all have that whole imposter syndrome in the back of your mind sometimes, when you’re thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’ But I know I have a different lens, and five solid years of broadcasting that I can bring to the table as well.”

Like most of the country, Jones has been gripped by both Ashes series: she noticed Australia’s women lacking their usual “edge” during their three consecutive defeats, after 18 months in transition, and believes the men’s series has forced players – and broadcasters – to “throw out the rulebook for Test match cricket”.

She has noticed a surge in interest across the country: “When I’m on trains or walking down the street, people are stopping me now and just going, ‘How good are both these Ashes series?’ They want to talk to me about both of them, which is just brilliant.”

It is a mark of Jones’ success in her post-playing career – and the transformation of profile in the women’s game in the last two decades – that she is now recognised as a broadcaster first, and a former Australia international second, even as a double-World Cup winner.

“TV’s a ridiculous medium: because you’re on it, people think you’re important, for some reason. Kids will come up to me and ask for an autograph because I’m Mel Jones, the commentator, not even knowing I played for Australia, which I find quite amusing. It’s just a different world from those days.”

Jones will stay in the UK for the start of the Hundred, before heading home for a short break and then diving into the Australia season. Her attitude is the same as ever: “Bring it on, keep it rolling. I’d prefer to arrive back home and feel as if I’ve got absolutely nothing left in the tank.”

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