Respected commentators Alison Mitchell and Tim Lane will join a Seven broadcasting team including Mel McLaughlin, James Brayshaw and Bruce McAvaney on the network’s roster for the forthcoming Australian summer, after Cricket Australia took free-to-air rights away from Channel Nine for the first time in 40 years.
The additions of Mitchell, a longtime radio caller for the BBC and part of BT Sport’s Ashes coverage last summer, and the former ABC cricket caller Lane mark a major departure from the formula used by Nine, which had long preferred to restrict its on-air team to ex-cricketers rather than broadcasting professionals.
“I’m tremendously excited to be joining Seven in a new era for Australian cricket coverage,” Mitchell said. “Test cricket holds a very special place in the hearts of the Australian public and it will be a privilege to take a lead role in bringing the action into people’s homes.”
Seven had previously named Ricky Ponting, Damien Fleming and Glenn McGrath as experts, and on Tuesday also added Lisa Sthalekar, Jason Gillespie, Greg Blewett, Simon Katich and Brad Hodge to that group. McLaughlin, who had been a part of Ten’s successful Big Bash League coverage before moving to Seven in 2016, will co-host Test matches with Brayshaw, who was moved on from Nine’s commentary box in 2016 but found a new home calling AFL matches at Seven. The well-regarded Fox Sports host Abbey Gelmi will also be part of the team.
McAvaney, considered the face and voice of Seven’s sporting coverage since he joined the network in 1990, will be part of Test match coverage by hosting a lunchtime interview show during the highly visible Melbourne and Sydney Test matches across the Boxing Day-New Year holiday period. He had recently explained why he did not think he was suited to a ball-by-ball commentary role on the coverage.
“I don’t think I’m capable of calling Test cricket now,” McAvaney said when interviewed by Peter Donegan on SEN. “I reckon I might’ve been 35 years ago, because I don’t think my knowledge now is up to scratch. I could call Donegan [bowling] to McAvaney but if McAvaney hooked and got caught on the boundary line, I wouldn’t be able to recall that three years ago he did the same thing, and I reckon that’s important. I think that’s how well you’ve got to know the sport.”
One of Seven’s earliest moves after winning the free-to-air rights to all home Test matches and a majority of BBL games in April was to hire Dave Barham as the network’s head of cricket. A former Seven executive producer, Barham had moved on to Ten and been instrumental in building a distinctive BBL coverage for the network.
However, Ten and Nine lost out to Seven for free-to-air rights over the next six years. Fox Sports, owned by News Corp, paid the majority of the overall A$1.18 million deal with CA and in return will broadcast every ball of the summer, including exclusive access to Australian men’s ODIs and T20Is. It’s the first time any international matches played in the Australian summer have been hidden behind a paywall.
“We are looking forward to the summer of cricket enormously,” Barham said. “Throughout the coverage, we will be showcasing the players, bringing out their character and personality with more than 30 player features and vignettes.
“Heartland cricket will also be championed as Seven highlights stories at community level and local cricket. And we’ll do all of this while respecting the history of cricket, now that we are custodians of the sport.”
Fox Sports had previously announced commentators including Adam Gilchrist, Mark Waugh, Shane Warne, Mike Hussey, Michael Vaughan, Mel Jones and Isa Guha. The network, which was desperate to gain access to stronger summertime sporting content after losing the rights to the English Premier League in 2016, is expected to unveil a cheaper, sports-only streaming service before the start of the summer in addition to its existing pay television packages.