Jags strikes out for the big league

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Jospephs Gate

Wyndham cricket club founder Jay Mohan tells Alys Francis about his plans to take club games to the next level

From a few mates getting together to play cricket on weekends to the largest club level Twenty20 competition in Australia, Wyndham Jags Cricket Club has come a long way. And founder Jay Mohan has bigger ambitions yet. “The world’s biggest Twenty20 competition” – that’s international, taking club games to the next level.

But behind the bright lights and buzz of the flashy new tournament is a surprisingly touching story – that of a wish born from opportunities lost.

Growing up in Kerala, South India, Mohan was instilled with a passion for cricket from a young age. He was a “reasonably okay” player, not quite enough for the big leagues. But this meant he never got to experience the excitement of playing in a proper competition.

“Where I came from, if you were highly talented you got picked,” Mohan says. If not, you were unlucky. There were no cricket facilities for club level games. Not like in Australia, where Mohan points out, “there are venues for you, you’ve got training facilities, you’ve got people supporting you, you’ve got governing bodies like Cricket Victoria, Cricket Australia, the council supports”.

After settling in Melbourne’s western suburbs in 2006 with his wife Smitha, Mohan found some like-minded cricket fans and they started a regular weekend game. Initially it was, “just to get the work stress out – so we were not playing proper cricket,” Mohan recalls.

In 2013 they formed Wyndham Jags Cricket Club and Community Sports Association, jumping through the requisite hoops of registering with Cricket Victoria and getting public liability insurance. At “around $5000, on top of the price of the ball and all that stuff,” forming a proper club can be prohibitively expensive for small teams.

Mohan and his friends had the advantage of strong community backing. After gathering “50 members who wanted to play cricket”, word of a new club in the West trickled out to other Indian origin communities: Punjabis, Guajaratis, Malyalalis and Delhiites joined. “All of a sudden this was a club people thought could flourish,” Mohan says.

At the same time, Mohan knew there were many more out there in the suburbs like him who wanted the chance to play proper cricket but weren’t getting it – even though the facilities were there.

It wasn’t always like that. A wave of immigration from South Asia over the past decade has seen the world’s most cricket crazy communities settling there – Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans – attracted because, as Mohan said, “the house prices used to be cheap”. Over the past few years this has led to a vibrant culture of weekend grassroots cricket. Just like Mohan and his mates started out – this means 10 or 11 friends getting together, without proper home grounds or facilities, “looking to play friendly games with other clubs”.

Knowing all this, it wasn’t long after Wyndham Jags Cricket Club was formed that Mohan and his friends began thinking about making a new cricket tournament; something organised and professional, endorsed by the top cricketing bodies, that would give teams from all over Melbourne the chance to play “proper competitive cricket”.

“I went to Cricket Victoria, and my friends as well,” Mohan says. “[We said] what are the chances of making an organised cricket tournament? We give insurance to every team and put up a nice prize money so everyone comes to play.”

Endorsed and heartily supported by Cricket Victoria, Jags Premier League has grown rapidly. Last year’s inaugural season saw 16 clubs play a two-month tournament at one cricket ground. This year’s season – which hit off in March and ends 30 May – there were 32 teams playing across six cricket grounds for a total 120 matches. “Everything has multiplied,” Mohan says.

The tournament allows unregistered teams to play in a professional competitive atmosphere, complete with floodlit night matches and illuminated wickets like Big Bash. The $700 entry fee covers teams for insurance through Jags Cricket Club, and up for grabs at the end of the season are: $5000, $2000, and $1000 cash prizes for first, second and third place, with $500 individual prizes for best batsman, best bowler and man of the season.

With scores published online on Cricket Australia’s My Cricket website, for some players it could be their first proper competition of many. This is what Mohan is hoping for. “There’s a chance that player’s might get picked by other cubs like a premier league club, so it’s a great opportunity,” he says.

“I missed out,” Mohan says. “But still, there are people out here [in Australia] who can excel their career through [Jags Premier League]. I’ll be happy if any of these players from these tournaments go and play state cricket.”

Jags Premier League has rapidly made a name for itself in Melbourne, is getting interest from other states, and even got the nod of approval from International Cricket Council (ICC) officials who came to watch a few matches last season, when the Cricket World Cup was in Australia. So it’s not hard to imagine Mohan’s dreams for the competition panning out at a similar pace.

Next year the plan is for a bigger state competition, with tournaments running in Melbourne’s South, East, North and West, before coming together for the quarter final and finals matches. This will expand to other states across Australia, and “if that goes well we are looking into getting into the different countries,” Mohan said. “It will be like a Big Bash for the club level, that’s what my aim is.”

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