The new T20 Big Bash – Australian domestic cricket’s biggest gamble. Six state teams out, replaced with eight city-based franchises. New names, new colours, new team line-ups. Support for the new concept was far from unanimous in cricket circles; but the true test would be what unfolded when the new league started.
First up would be the Sydney Sixers, one of two Sydney-based teams, at home against the Brisbane Heat. The Sixers in pink, the Heat in teal.
Early signs weren’t particularly promising. Half an hour before the game, there looked to be only around 5000 people inside the ground. The crowd built up in the final minutes, though during the early overs it was already clear the attendance would be below expectations.
Brisbane won the toss and elected to bat, sending experienced international players Brendon McCullum and Matthew Hayden out to open the innings. Hayden retired from first-class cricket four years ago, but has played the T20 circuit in India since then and still looks match-fit.
Another old warrior opened the bowling for the Sixers, with Brett Lee charging in from the Paddington End. And he looked in form early, conceding only four runs from the opening over. In his second over, a bouncer struck Brendon McCullum in the head, forcing the New Zealander to retire for treatment.
James Hopes replaced McCullum, but after scoring 18 he departed, being the first player to be dismissed in the history of the new league; with Dwayne Bravo the first successful bowler. McCullum returned, but would score only one more run.
The Sixers brought Stuart MacGill into the attack. The old leg-spinner, returning to action having not played at any level for a few years, immediately hit the spot with the ball and tightened up the game. In his first over, he tempted McCullum into a lofted drive, but the shot went straight to Mitchell Starc at long on.
Hayden went on to score 29, and Daniel Christian top-scored with 32. But too many of the Heat batsmen gave their wickets away easily; and the scoreboard wasn’t ticking over quickly enough. Only 50 runs were scored from the first ten overs, and although the Heat increased the tempo in the second half of their innings, they never looked to have anywhere near enough.
The Heat finished their innings on 8 for 139, leaving the Sixers exactly seven per over to win.
Stuart MacGill kept his bowling tight, finishing with 2 for 21 from his four overs. Brett Lee was even more economical with 0 for 19 from his four.
And the entertainment rolled along. Player’s theme music was played for each new batsman, as well as for a boundary, fall of a wicket, or a bowling change. Cheer girls danced routines and formed human pyramids at the fall of the Heat wickets. During the innings break, the Sixers’ mascot dog ran around the outfield. As the teams emerged for the second half, a spectacular fireworks display lit up the sky.
The Heat made a big move for the first over of the Sixers’ innings, giving off-spinner Nathan Hauritz the new ball. And he kept the bowling tight, as it took a few overs for Sixers’ openers Brad Haddin and Michael Lumb to find their rhythm.
Haddin found his groove when Alistair McDermott bowled to him. McDermott, a late signing for the Heat, had no number on his shirt, but he had bad numbers on his bowling sheet after Haddin smashed two sixes and a four in an over.
Lumb was soon out, with Nick Maddinson taking his place at the crease. The runs flowed freely.
The crowd, although small, were getting into the spirit. Celebrities spotted in the crowd were interviewed, including Mel Doyle, Kristina Keneally and Adam Goodes. Tweets from the crowd were scrolling across the scoreboard. The Mexican wave, which in these days exists solely as an excuse to boo the members, went around the ground.
Big hits and wickets were appreciated and applauded. With this being the Sixers’ first game ever, there was little merchandise being worn by the crowd; but plenty of Australia and New South Wales Blues shirts were being worn.
With Haddin in form, hitting boundaries and sixes, the Sixers’ score was well ahead of the Duckworth-Lewis par score. Haddin and Maddinson put on 79 for the second wicket. Haddin, under fire after his get-out shot in the recent Test in Hobart, bounced back to form with a series of lobs over the infield and big hits, including one that hit the roof of the Members’ Stand, on his way to an innings of 76 off 59 balls.
Maddinson and Haddin both departed with the finish line in sight, but Steve Smith and Moises Henriques finished the game off, and the Sixers took out the first win in the history of the new competition by seven wickets.
So was the opening night for the new T20 Big Bash league a success? The cricket was entertaining enough, especially Haddin’s innings. It was good to see Matthew Hayden batting again, and Stuart MacGill still has some good bowling in him.
The crowd figure was never announced or posted on the scoreboard, but it looked about 12,000; a disappointing number, with the original expectation being about double that. The Sixers and the new Big Bash league still have work to do to build support, with this crowd well short of what the New South Wales state team attracted in last year’s T20 competition.
Overall I’d rate it a pass, but only just. There’s still more to be done to turn the team of players in pink drawn from far and wide into a team the locals of Sydney identify with. In this new league, there’s also a new cross-town rival. And it’s not until I’ve checked out the Thunder as well that I’ll know who my team will be in this brave new world of franchise T20 cricket.