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Opinion

Time for the Big Bash League to bust out of its slumber

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16th December, 2019
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Call it hubris, call it arrogance, call it misreading what cricket fans really want in the most spectacular fashion.

Whatever you want to call Cricket Australia’s decision to expand what was a 35 and then 43-game season generally over by first week of February into last summer’s 59-game monstrosity with the Final on Sunday February 17, the more BBL|08 went on, the more one question was asked.

When. Will. This. Bloody. Competition. End?

A combination of The Never-ending Schedule and a distinct lack of Australian and International star power just meant that the 2018-19 BBL just never really hit the mark.

The cricket was fine, and there were great contests along the way, but for me, the season just meandered along in a third-gear background noise that was significantly easier to drop in and out of than it really should have been, or what Cricket Australia would have you believe is one of the premier Twenty20 competitions in the world.

But this year should be different.

There’s still a lot of games – two more than last year, in fact – but fifteen double-headers mean the schedule has been shortened by a week on last season.

The 57 regular season games start tonight in Brisbane, with the hometown Heat hosting the Sydney Thunder, and ends on Monday, January 27, when the reigning champion Melbourne Renegades host the Heat under the Docklands roof.

Melbourne Renegades

Can the Renegades go back to back? (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

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After that, those two extra games are finals fixtures added to accommodate a five-team finals series; the bleating of semi-finalists continually losing at home has been swallowed hook, line and sinker, and so now the top team teams will get a double chance.

I personally saw no issue with the straight four-team semi-final knockout series, but Cricket Australia are certainly convinced the new five-game top-five format will ensure the season concludes on the right note.

And look, it just might. The new format could work a treat, and all the narrative around the finals might just be about the cricket and not the favourites getting knocked out. On that regard, I’m happy to remain open-minded.

The big difference this year is certainly going to be lift in quality.

Though all the BBL sides have utilised their two overseas import spots each season, it’s fair to say those incoming internationals haven’t exactly been headline acts. The non-sighting of most of the top Australian players in recent years has only added to this.

But looking around the squads this year, and with the curious timing of a one-week ODI tour of India in mid-January thrown into the mix that surprisingly works in the favour of the national limited overs players being more involved this summer, there won’t be that same lack of star-power.

Brisbane struck the first blow in this department, signing former South African captain and general cricket freak AB de Villers for the back-half of the season, in a move they will be counting on to end their two-year finals hiatus.

AB de Villiers in Brisbane colours

Brisbane Heat’s marquee signing AB de Villiers. (AAP image/supplied by Brisbane Heat)

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The Melbourne Stars replied by adding ‘ABdV’ fast-bowling mate Dale Steyn for the first six games, and it felt like things flowed from there.

Starting back in Brisbane, all the talk at the moment is around two big hitters. Michael Vaughan hasn’t been able to get through a Big Bash discussion on Fox Sports without mentioning 21-year-old Somerset slugger Tom Banton, who thumped a forty-ball ton in Brisbane grade cricket last weekend, and judging by a social media video doing the rounds, Chris Lynn is hitting the ball pretty well again.

The Sydney Thunder lost Jos Buttler, Joe Root, and Shane Watson, and won’t see Pat Cummins either, but they’ve regained Usman Khawaja who doesn’t seem likely to be recalled by the national selectors any time soon, and big-hitting English opener Alex Hales and South African bowling all-rounder Chris Morris.

Chris Green is highly regarded around the world Twenty20 scene, and Callum Ferguson will be a quality captain following in the path of Watson.

The Sydney Sixers have done it again, landing Steve Smith for the last few weeks of the competition including the Finals, and Nathan Lyon for a fair chunk of the competition as well. They have Josh Hazlewood signed up too, but you suspect he’s now an injury replacement waiting to be made.

Young gun Josh Phillipe is so highly regarded there’s no room for Peter Nevill in pink this summer, and they have English internationals James Vince and Tom Curran, too.

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The Stars are the perennial BBL bridesmaids, and I initially thought they might battle this summer, but the signing of Steyn plus the likely return of Glenn Maxwell means they will shake up the first half of the competition at the very least.

They’ve added Hilton Cartwright and Nathan Coulter-Nile from Perth, and could well have Marcus Stoinis for the entire season, as well. They’ll be in the mix, I now have to concede.

Champions, the Melbourne Renegades have kept the majority of last season’s unheralded squad together, and have added veteran opener Shaun Marsh, who will be crucial in keeping their batting order firing when skipper Aaron Finch inevitably goes off on Australian duty.

Kane Richardson will be important, Tom Cooper has been in solid form for South Australia, and Dan Christian remains one of the best allrounders in the game.

Hobart made Jofra Archer into a multi-format superstar for England, and thus won’t have him for BBL09, but they’ve done alright on the international front, bringing in South African star David Miller. And with Darcy Short, Matthew Wade, and maybe even Ben McDermott a chance to miss portions of the BBL season due to Australian selections, Miller’s top order aggression will be crucial if the Hurricanes are going to mount another tilt at the BBL Finals.

Afghan spinner Qais Ahmad also returns after impressing during his cameo in Hobart last season, while James Faulkner is still a more than capable match-winner at this level. And don’t underestimate the freedom George Bailey will be playing with, the BBL his last cricket in anger as a player before he joins the National Selection Panel in February.

Adelaide will again have Afghanistan spearhead Rashid Khan back this summer after he was almost unplayable at times last season, and Peter Siddle could be just as important while ever he keeps seemingly getting better in this format with age.

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Their batting will rely on Alex Carey and Jake Weatherald at the top, while Travis Head should also be using the BBL to try and build some consistent – and not fleeting – form with the bat.

Rashid Khan

Rashid Khan celebrates a wicket for the Strikers. (Photo by Mark Brake – CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images )

And that just leaves the three-time Champion Perth Scorchers, who seem to have lost a heap of those same home-grown Western Australians that they won titles with.

They’ve added the likes of English quick Chris Jordan and allrounder Liam Livingstone, which will be very handy, but such is the depth of local talent coming through over in the west, the Scorchers still seem reasonably strong on paper and loom as something of a bogey side.

It all starts at the ‘Gabba in Brisbane tonight, and will grace your telly every night for the next seven or so weeks.

Last season seemed to float along, but already, it feels like there’s a bit more about this season to keep it firing every night.

I’m looking forward to seeing if that’s how it actually plays out.