Married At First Sight's Cam Merchant on cricketing life with Dhoni, Tendulkar & Gayle

By Stephan ShemiltBBC Sport
Cam Merchant with MS Dhoni, Eoin Morgan, Chris Gayle, David Warner and Sachin Tendulkar
Cam Merchant has worked with the likes of MS Dhoni, Eoin Morgan, Chris Gayle, David Warner and Sachin Tendulkar

For fans of Married at First Sight Australia, seeing Cam shout Jules from the next room to fix the sound on a Zoom call is like having your own personal episode of the TV show.

For those who have no awareness of 'MAFS', Cam or Jules, it's a simple concept - two people get married just moments after meeting each other.

It has been adopted in the UK, United States and across Europe, but it's in Australia where it really is a phenomenon.

When MAFS airs four nights a week in February and March each year, it is the number one show down under. Picked up by All4 in the UK, the latest series regularly attracted 1.3m viewers.

It is where Cameron Merchant found fame. His marriage to Jules Robinson has seen them become household names in Australia. In the UK they have made appearances on This Morning with Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby, the Chris Moyles Show on Radio X and in the Times newspaper.

Before MAFS, there was cricket, a 26-match first-class career, rooming with Kane Williamson, a visit to Sachin Tendulkar's house and Christmas with Chris Gayle.

Now, because of his TV stardom, Merchant is arguably one of the most recognisable former cricketers in both Australia and the UK.

Rooming with Williamson

A left-handed batsman, Merchant learnt his cricket in Sydney and on the Gold Coast, where he played with former Australia all-rounder Andrew Symonds.

His father, Russell, was a fast bowler who played for the New South Wales second XI, but it was through his New Zealand-born mother Margaret an opportunity came to build a career across the Tasman Sea.

At the age of 24, Merchant made his first-class debut for a Northern Districts outfit for whom a young Williamson, now New Zealand captain and rated as the best Test batsman in the world, made his bow a few months earlier.

"We roomed together and, to this day, he'll still say I'm probably the loudest snorer of all time," says Merchant.

"It was his work ethic that set him apart. He always wanted to be the best. Not just the best in New Zealand, but one of the best in the world."

Current New Zealand new-ball pair Trent Boult and Tim Southee were also Merchant's team-mates at Northern Districts. When he moved to Wellington, he played alongside new England spin-bowling coach Jeetan Patel. If you search 'best cricket catch Cam Merchant' in YouTube, you'll see Patel as the first to congratulate Merchant when he hangs on to a screamer at point.

He ended his first-class career a couple of months after his 27th birthday with two hundreds and an average just above 30.

Merchant tried to make a life in Canada, where he played cricket in the northern hemisphere summers. When that didn't work out, he returned to Australia and made enough runs in grade cricket to be part of the Sydney Sixers squad for the inaugural season of the Big Bash in 2011-12.

However, it was his work as a coach that led to a chance encounter and an opportunity to work with some of the biggest names to have ever played the game.

Christmas with the Universe Boss

Cam Merchant and Chris Gayle
West Indies batsman Chris Gayle has spent Christmas with Cam Merchant and his parents, Russell and Margaret

"I was coaching the son of Michael Clarke's personal trainer at the time, Duncan Kerr," Merchant explains. "Clarke was Australia captain and Duncan also worked for the equipment manufacturer Spartan, who Clarke was signed with.

"There was a job as Spartan's cricket development manager. I put my resume in and when I got the call I was asked 'how much do you love cricket?' I said 'it's a Friday afternoon. Everyone is at the pub having a beer and I'm coaching kids because I love it'."

With Spartan, Merchant would work on equipment for India megastars Tendulkar and MS Dhoni.

"I took Dhoni some gear for the World Cup when India were playing in Perth," he says. "I went to his hotel room and he said 'just hang out'.

"I remember thinking that a billion Indians would be craving the opportunity that I had. We just sat, chatted, had a coffee, and it was great."

With Tendulkar, Merchant had an even more personal audience; at The Little Master's house in Mumbai.

"It's about 15 floors high, combining where he lives and all of his office space," explains Merchant. "There were photographs of all of the centuries he made. I remember thinking how special this is and how appreciative I am to be having such an experience.

"He brought out the two-strap pads that he wore forever. I was thinking 'if these things could talk'. I didn't want to touch them in case they fell apart."

Whereas Merchant went to Tendulkar's home, Gayle, the Universe Boss, shared Christmas with Merchant's parents when he was playing in the Big Bash.

"He is a phenomenon, a wonderful human being," says Merchant. "When I see him, the first thing he asks is 'how are Mum and Dad'. That shows the heart of the man. He's a legend."

Cricket to MAFS and back again

Cam Merchant and Jules Robinson
Cam and Jules met on Married At First Sight in September 2018 and now have a son, named Oliver

Merchant was still working for Spartan when he was out drinking with three friends in a Sydney bar.

They were approached by some TV producers who asked if any of the men were single. After the others pointed at Merchant, he was asked if he wanted to appear on Married at First Sight.

Merchant met and married Jules in September 2018, with their wedding and its aftermath shown on Australian TV in early 2019.

From nowhere, Merchant had gone from anonymous cricketer to one of the most high-profile men in the country. He took advice on dealing with fame from another cricketing acquaintance.

"I'd worked with David Warner during his time away from international cricket," says Merchant. "He was playing in Canada for Winnipeg Hawks, where I was assistant coach under Waqar Younis.

"I let him know I was going on MAFS and he was fantastic. Everything he told me and gave me support with came true. He nailed it.

"Both Davey and his wife Candice are phenomenal human beings. He played a wonderful role in helping me through that period."

As part of the show, one of Merchant's 'dates' with Jules involved taking his new wife for a net. When the cameras weren't rolling, he was able to escape the MAFS bubble to practice sessions back in Manly for a much-needed dose of "reality".

Just over two years on from their unique meeting, Cam and Jules remain one the show's rare success stories.

Such is their profile in Australia, their 'real' wedding - Married at First Sight weddings are not actually legal down under - was shown on the Channel 9 show 'A Current Affair'. They have a son, Oliver, who was born in September 2020.

Cricket remains, though. Merchant, now 37, even smashed his wedding cake with a miniature bat.

"Jules has had Skype chats with Chris Gayle," says Merchant. "She thinks he's hilarious."

He still turns out for a Manly side that includes former Australia spinner Steve O'Keefe, as well as Big Bash stars Ollie Davies and Jack Edwards. Their latest recruit is ex-South Africa pace bowler Morne Morkel.

He gets sledged from opponents for being a "reality superstar", while his own team-mates rib him for "whatever air-fryer I'm promoting on Instagram".

"Jules has been once or twice, but it's not really her bag," says Merchant.

In his new life, Merchant combines his experience of professional sport and reality TV working for Project Gen Z, working in schools educating and inspiring children through motivation, goal-setting, self-development and mental health awareness. There is an aspiration to launch in the UK soon.

"When I've got my Manly stuff on, I'm just Cam who plays cricket," he says. "Then, my mind can shift if I'm somewhere with Jules because someone might come to us and I have to remember that they know a lot about us.

"We're so very fortunate for the love and support we get in both Australia and the UK. What a ride. We're thankful for so much.

"I'm neither a cricketer or a reality TV star. Both things have given me phenomenal opportunities to find a purpose, to find happiness for myself and others.

"I always thought cricket was my purpose, but it turned out to be a stepping stone to where I am today."

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