This year’s Big Bash League has revealed two major flaws which both need to be solved in order to see the format of the game survive into the future.
The first is the dwindling crowds, while the second is the depth of the eight teams, which have been severely stretched from Test matches and the many injuries to players.
If Cricket Australia is serious about future expansion of the competition from eight to 10 teams, even 12 teams, these problems need to be solved before this is made reality.
As was shown in the A-League, if the proper considerations aren’t made, the game will ultimately suffer.
Only this year – after multiple attempts – is the A-League finally benefitting from the addition of a new team. Western Sydney Wanderers has seen the creation of the Sydney derby, helping to build the league into one of the country’s sporting showpieces.
The problem Cricket Australia has with the BBL is that with Test players out and international players also on duty, it creates a depth gap which has been shown this season by the Sydney Thunder.
Currently on an 11-game losing streak, the Thunder has eight players under the age of 22. While this is a fantastic experience for most of them, the team has been completely outplayed in each of their five matches, highlighting the depth gap between the top and the bottom.
It has also been shown in their crowds, with an average of 6,708 people for their home games in a ground which can hold 83,000 people. It’s hardly a great advertisement for the game – a stadium only eight percent full.
As the competition has eight teams and every other cricket competition in Australia has six – except for the Futures League, which has seven – the talent pool is stretched, particularly when players are in the Test squad.
If Cricket Australia is serious about expansion then this is an area that needs to be solved. Stretching the squads around both Tests and this competition is already having an effect; the increase to 10 teams would be catastrophic.
The other problem the competition faces is the setting up of a new team will not be based around a cricketing state.
Each current team is owned or in some way influenced by its state body. The introduction of a new team in the proposed locations for expansion would not be.
This creates a situation where the new club would have all of their players coming from outside the area, which would make the team struggle for an out-and-out superstar who would bring people through the turnstiles.
They would have to look overseas for that player and that comes with dangers, particularly if the player fails to shine on the stage, much like Chris Gayle for the Thunder.
This wouldn’t be a problem if the team was based in Canberra but unfortunately we only have to look at the Canberra Comets in the old one day cup to see how successful a team from the nation’s capital went.
So what’s the solution to the problem?
Well to me, the BBL needs to find a time when Test cricket and international cricketers are available. It also needs to be at a time where Test cricket, ODI and Twenty20 cricket in Australia isn’t occurring.
My answer to this is the start of the Australian cricket season.
By starting the season with the BBL, it will get the competition finished before the Test series and make those players available for the competition.
This would also increase the audiences at the game and make the television rights more attractive for free-to-air (FTA) networks.
Tests at the MCG, the SCG and Hobart during this season have had a visible effect on the crowds for the BBL, with the average well down on last year.
By moving it to a designated spot away from the other forms, it would increase the audiences and create interest from FTA networks, as it would be the only form of cricket on at the time.
This would also free players from Australia and overseas, as there are limited international series on at the time.
The only problem with all of this is the Twenty20 Champions League, which this year was held in October. If that happens again, it would ruin the prospect of holding it in September-October.
However, the Champions League has been held in early September before and with negotiations it could be moved to an August-September date, paving the way for an early Big Bash League season.
The possibility of moving it after the Test series is another option but that could create headaches for the T20 internationals and One Day International matches in Australia.
One thing is for certain though; changes are needed before expansion is thought of, because if it isn’t then the new teams will be in trouble before they even start.