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Matt Maher: Eve Jones is ‘not quite finished’ with a breakthrough year

Two weeks trapped in a hotel room with just gym equipment and the television for company isn’t anyone’s idea of a holiday.

Birmingham Phoenix's Eve Jones (left)
Birmingham Phoenix's Eve Jones (left)

Yet for Eve Jones, it has at least provided something of a break during a hugely successful if hectic year which is a long way from finished.

A week tomorrow the all-rounder hopes to make her bow in the Big Bash League for Melbourne Renegades. A fortnight’s hotel quarantine in Adelaide before being permitted entry to Australia is a necessary evil and Jones, as she talks down the telephone line from 10,000 miles away, is typically upbeat.

“It could be a lot worse,” she says. “Of course it is weird and a bit strange. The rules are really strict, you can’t leave the room and when they bring our food, we have to wait three minutes before getting it.

“But I feel quite lucky because I have got a bike, a treadmill and some weights, a little kitchen area too.

“It is probably a good thing I’ve got these two weeks because it has been a busy summer. It is quite nice to have a couple of weeks to refresh and go again.”

Jones, who has a degree in art, also packed some paints and pencils but is yet to sketch her window view of downtown Adelaide, a city she does not know in a country where she soon hopes to make big headlines.

The call from the Renegades came after a stellar domestic season in which she plundered 808 runs for the Birmingham Phoenix and Central Sparks, last month becoming the first ever uncapped player to be voted women’s cricketer of the year by her peers. Jones was also named captain of the PCA women’s team of the year and claimed the player of the season in the Charlotte Edwards Cup.

“It’s been a whirlwind of a summer,” she says. “Has it sunk in yet? Not really. Maybe it will when I get back to England. It’s been a great year but I’m not quite finished yet.”

Playing in the Big Bash represents another major step on a journey which began more than two decades ago at Whitchurch Cricket Club.

Some of Jones’ earliest childhood memories are of running round the boundary rope of the club’s Heath Road ground ‘like a maniac’ while watching her dad Rod, something of a local cricketing legend, play for the first team.

She and sister Meg were the only two girls at junior training sessions but it did not deter them.

“We used to really get stuck in,” recalls Jones. “It was quite funny. We’d turn up for matches and when the opposition would see a girl in the team, it would go one of two ways. Either they would try and hit you out of the park, or they’d be scared of getting out to you. I just used to try and bowl them all out, just to prove girls can play cricket.

“That’s always driven me. I know women’s sport in general if anyone has a bad game or drops a dolly there is a lot of criticism. People are quick to say: ‘Oh, that’s girls cricket’. There is always that. But for me it has always been motivation, to prove I am capable of being there.”

Jones made her senior debut for Whitchurch at the age of 11, remains among the few women to have ever played in the Birmingham League and has enjoyed a strong domestic career in the women’s game with Shropshire, Staffordshire, Lancashire and most recently Warwickshire.

This past year, however, has undoubtedly seen her hit greater heights, for two key reasons.

The first came in 2020 when Jones was one of 41 players to earn a professional contract. Suddenly, training which previously had to be fitted around coaching jobs at Ellesmere College and Shrewsbury School took prominence.

Then, this summer, came The Hundred, a competition which for all the criticism thrown its way did more than anything before it to raise the profile of the women’s game in England. Few grasped the mantle like Jones, who scored 223 runs at an average just shy of 30 and a strike rate of 118.27.

“It was incredible,” she says. “I got so many messages from people saying they had never watched women’s cricket before but became fans after watching The Hundred.

“I don’t think any of us expected that impact. A lot of people have said they preferred watching the women’s games to the men’s, which is a first. We noticed as the tournament went on it was getting busier and busier for our games. I loved every minute.

“Turning professional last year has been great for all of us. I feel comfortable where my game is at, I have a good support network around me. This is something I have wanted to do since I was a young girl.”

At 29, Jones is a little too old to be called a prospect but the rapid growth of the women’s game is taking place in time for her to realise her dreams.

Starring in the Big Bash, cricket’s most prestigious women’s tournament, would further raise her profile and further strengthen her case for long-awaited – some would term long-overdue – international recognition.

So often has Jones been asked about England in recent weeks she jokes about already having prepared an answer. In truth, the question is one which needs directing at the selectors. For Jones, the task is pretty straightforward.

“To play for England is something I have always wanted but it’s hard because there isn’t too much I can do about it,” she says.

“I’ve just got to keep going, keep proving myself and hopefully that is enough for me to get selected.

“The Big Bash is a great opportunity for me to show I can do it in a different country, a different competition, on the main stage again. I can’t wait to get out there now, meet the team, see the sights and get started with the cricket.”

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