WBBL opening weekend a smash hit

For years Mel Jones had been training, competing and scoring runs for both the Victorian Spirit and Southern Stars at the Junction Oval without any trouble finding a carpark.

But that wasn’t the case when Jones, now an internationally renowned commentator and Change Our Game Ambassador, visited the revamped venue in St Kilda for the WBBL’s Big Weekend – a free summer festival to officially launch the WBBL|04 cricket season over the weekend.

Melanie Jones standing in front of a camera

“I’ve played at the Junction Oval all my career and I have never had any problems finding a park!” Jones told Change Our Game.

“I couldn’t believe it - I actually thought there might have been another event on – but it was just the swarms of people heading into the ground!”

It was a surprising change of pace for Jones who has led most of her life in the fast lane – after a blazing playing career that included 61 One Day Internationals for Australia, Jones now zooms around the world as a commentator and has signed to be part of the Fox Sports team covering this summer’s domestic and international men’s and women’s seasons.

“The atmosphere was very fun,” Jones said of the day.

“There was all these new smiling faces and it was an eclectic mix of people – lots of parents were there with young boys and girls. The accessibility to the players for photos and autographs was fantastic.”

image of the oval with spectators

The free event was a hit with families, with Jones remarking that there is every chance a future Southern Stars captain may have been watching from the sidelines.

“I know it’s a cliché but ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’,” Jones said.

“When I was young, I had no idea that women played cricket – I didn’t know women played club cricket let alone there was the chance to represent Australia. For these girls to see this up close at a young age and be inspired by some of the best role models going around is amazing.”

It’s an aim that has clearly been recognised by Cricket Australia’s marketing department for this season, with the campaign to promote women and girls playing cricket called #WatchMe.

Jones said it warmed her heart to also see many young boys at the event as well as young girls.

“As great as it is to see the young girls there, for me it was really exciting to see a lot of young boys there because they’ll now grow up with the belief that this is the norm, thinking that ‘this is cricket – it’s not men’s or women’s cricket – it’s just cricket’

“I even saw one boy who was actually crying because his family had to leave and he didn’t get all the autographs yet, he wanted to stay and watch the next game.”

The format of the event included all eight teams from across the country playing four matches across two days. With food trucks and jumping castles and a host of other activities, the weekend was an opportunity to showcase the sport to a new audience.

image of the oval with spectators looking on

The WBBL is now in its fourth season and the public’s appetite for shorter, more exciting and more consumable sports entertainment is apparent according to Jones.

“In general, people are time-poor these days,” Jones said.

“It’s not just the attention spans of kids, it’s also the parent’s ability to get the kids to sport or activities on the weekends. I think Cricket Australia has done really well in their adjustment of the shorter formats including some of the work that Change Our Game Ambassador Belinda Clarke has done.”

A lack of time has been a well-recognised roadblock to women and girls wanting to be involved in sport. Now it seems, club, state and national sporting organisations are beginning to identify and work to remedy this.

The traditional format of a five-day-long test match is hardly a conducive prospect to a busy mother or a young woman juggling her professional or social life – but a two-hour long T20 match can be.

“Traditionally men would train Tuesday and Thursday nights and then play all day Saturday – that’s the way it’s always been, but that’s not necessarily what is best for everyone,” Jones said.

“For example, at my club we had a rolling training session on Thursday nights. Sessions were adjusted depending on what time players got off school or work or if they had other commitments where they didn’t have to be there for the full program. They’d email me their times and what areas they wanted to focus on and we’d try and customise the session to get the most out of everyone during the times that suited them – sometimes they could even be in and out in 30 minutes.”

It’s the future of sport, and it looks very exciting for everyone.

The Office for Women in Sport and Recreation was created in 2017 by the Victorian Government in response to the Inquiry into Women and Girls in Sport and Recreation. It is the first Office of it’s kind in Australia and is supported by the biggest investment by any state government into facilities, participation and leadership opportunities across all levels of sport and recreation for women and girls.

Credit: Jump Media & WBBL

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