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Seven confirm 35-year first in TV shake-up

Appointment of Alison Mitchell represents two major shifts in coverage of Test cricket in Australia

Channel Seven's head of cricket David Barham regards the introduction of a female voice to Australia's sound of summer as long overdue, but says the signing of Alison Mitchell has nothing to do with gender or agendas.

Seven on Tuesday announced that English broadcaster Mitchell will be one of the network's three ball-by-ball callers during its first season of Test cricket, joining Tim Lane and James Brayshaw.

"She's a gun commentator," Barham told AAP. "1983 was the last time there was a female voice in Test cricket in Australia on free to air TV, 35 years ago. It doesn't seem right to me.

"It's appropriate and long overdue, with cricket being a sport that has done so much for women.

"But she's not picked because she's a woman."

Mitchell, who has worked on radio for the BBC, impressed Barham immensely when she was calling the Ashes last summer for UK broadcaster BT Sport alongside former the likes of Ricky Ponting and Damien Fleming, who have also joined the Seven team.

"She's picked because she is very good at her job," Barham said. "To me she is in the best two or three, that's what you want."

In an interview with SEN, Barham added: "I was listening (to BT's Ashes commentary) for Ricky and I actually found myself listening to Ali more. She's just so well informed, so knowledgeable and so smart about cricket."

Mitchell's appointment alongside Lane, Brayshaw and host Mel McLaughlin is another departure from Nine's Test coverage, where most of its commentary team were legendary former players.

Nine's host Mark Nicholas was the only member of the Nine team who had not played Test cricket (Brayshaw also previously worked on Nine's coverage before moving to Seven), but that trend will change this summer.

Barham said one of Mitchell, Brayshaw and Lane - broadcasters rather than cricket greats - will work alongside two former players during each commentary stint, a mix he deemed essential.

"I think for Test cricket, you need to have callers in your commentary box, genuine callers who will call the action and then ask questions," he said.

"You need those kind of people in the mix to get the best out of your expert commentators. Instead of it being a series of expert commentators talking, I wanted to make sure we had journalists and callers in there so we got a different conversational style of commentary."

Fleming said Mitchell, an award-winning journalist, would bring a lot of "knowledge and freshness" to the studio.

"Her research is second to none," he said.

McLaughlin will be one of Seven's two hosts for Test matches // Getty
McLaughlin will be one of Seven's two hosts for Test matches // Getty

"She watches so much cricket and covers so much. It was a breeze to work with her last year on BT Sport, the stints went so quickly."

Barham also confirmed legendary broadcaster Bruce McAvaney will be part of the network's cricket coverage, conducting in-depth interviews during lunch breaks at the MCG and SCG Tests.

Mitchell, veteran caller Lane plus former players Jason Gillespie, Simon Katich, Brad Hodge, Greg Blewett and Lisa Sthalekar were confirmed as Seven's latest cricket signings.

Ponting, Damien Fleming, Glenn McGrath and Michael Slater are among the high-profile figures to have already signed on with Seven, while McLaughlin and Brayshaw will work as dual hosts.

And Barham teased of more announcements to come.

Test cricket coverage will get a big shake-up this summer // Getty
Test cricket coverage will get a big shake-up this summer // Getty

"One we're not going to announce yet is an English commentator. He will come out after Christmas," Barham told the crowd at a sales event in Sydney.

Seven, who won Test and BBL broadcasting rights as part of a new $1.2 billion deal that also includes Fox Sports, will launch its cricket coverage with a women's Twenty20 game that follows the AFL grand final on September 29.

"We're not looking at turning the game on its head ... the change will really come with the new voices, talent and people," Barham said.

"I don't think we're going to do anything too outlandish outside that. What we will do is tell stories."

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