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Opinion

A plan to improve the Big Bash League

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Roar Guru
5th November, 2020
4

On Thursday, Cricket Australia updated the fixture list for the upcoming Big Bash League season, which will now get underway on December 10.

While having a look through the fixture list and noting that the season would once again be the best part of two months long, the perennial question came into my head: how could the BBL be improved?

Then, more specifically, I thought: could the BBL be played solely within the school summer holidays from the end of December to the end of January?

The answer to that question is yes, it can.

Before I go any further, I will note that I am well aware that it wasn’t that long ago that the BBL lasted not much longer than a month. The following plans could see the tournament return to those days.

For the presentation of my hypothetical plans, I will be using the calendar dates of 2020-21 as a blank canvas, adding in the international fixtures that Cricket Australia originally released back in May, and pretending that COVID-19 is just the figment of a sadistic person’s imagination.

This will allow free rein, rather than having to contend with re-arranged fixtures, a course of action which will hopefully not be necessary next summer.

Regardless of The Hundred being a much-panned tournament, its fixture list should be a model for the BBL fixture list.

Before the COVID pandemic forced the ECB to tear up its plans, The Hundred was set to last for just 29 days from Friday, July 17 to Saturday, August 15, with a match on every weekday evening and two matches held on Saturdays and Sundays.

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The scheduling of The Hundred is on point, taking place entirely within the English and Welsh summer holidays.

As much as I would love every child to be like me when I was growing up and have a love of Test cricket, I know full well that the T20 format is more suited to attracting the younger generation into the sport.

Therefore, it makes complete sense that the group stage of the BBL at least should be held entirely within the school holidays so that school nights are out of the picture.

In most states, the summer holidays will begin either on December 17 or December 18 this year and so the opening match of the BBL would be on the night of Friday, December 18.

Mitch Marsh.

(Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)

With schools re-opening for the new school year after Australia Day, the absolute latest the BBL would finish in this scenario would be Saturday, January 23. That creates a five-week window for the BBL to be played in.

While it would be possible for a tournament with a single round-robin group stage, semi-finals and a final to take place in five weeks, I’m tempted by a shakeup in the format that I’ve come up with.

The eight teams would be split into two groups of four. These groups would be changed every season to avoid teams playing the same fixtures year after year.

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That is with the notable exception of the two Melbourne teams and the two Sydney teams, who would headline the two groups. This allows for those popular local derbies to take place every year.

For argument’s sake, let’s say that Group A is made up of the Melbourne Renegades, Melbourne Stars, Adelaide Strikers and Hobart Hurricanes and Group B is made up of the Sydney Sixers, Sydney Thunder, Brisbane Heat and Perth Scorchers.

In a group stage format identical to that used in the UEFA Champions League, each team plays every other team twice – once at home, the other away – which equates to six matches per team, over half the 14 matches each team will play in the group stage of BBL10, and 24 matches in the group stage overall.

The current points system would be maintained with two points would be awarded for a win, one point awarded for a tie or no result and none for a loss.

This group stage format idea is long enough for it not to be gone in a flash but short enough for it not to drag on as it does currently and to guarantee jeopardy in every match with big mistakes potentially proving to be very costly.

The top two teams from each group would then progress to the semi-finals with the final played between the winners of the two semi-finals.

To me, this classic, simplistic format is far better than the odd finals series format used currently in the BBL with equally odd names of The Eliminator, The Qualifier, The Knockout and The Challenger.

An interesting idea would be to create a family-friendly finals day similar to the one for the English T20 Blast, where both semi-finals and finals take place on the same day.

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Dan Christian

(Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

The finals day could be moved from city to city each year over a six-year cycle.

All this reduces the number of matches played from 61 to 27 and the length of the tournament from eight weeks to a maximum of five weeks.

Ideally, there would be a group stage game every night, which in this scenario would mean that the group stage would last from Friday, December 18 to Tuesday, January 12, with days off for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

There is some room in the schedule for more rest days, which could be taken in between rounds of fixtures.

If the finals day proposal were to be used, that could take place as early as Saturday, January 16 although the original international fixtures list had ODIs against India scheduled for Friday, January 15 and Sunday, January 17.

Fox would probably not be at all happy with that so the traditional knockout format of two semi-finals and a final would probably be best in our scenario with the final taking place on Saturday, January 23 in between the ODI series against India and the ODI series against New Zealand.

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On the subject of Fox, the current television contract between the pay-TV network and Seven could throw a spanner in the works of this idyllic tournament format.

Seven and Fox will show 45 of the 61 games in BBL10 live with the other 16 exclusively live on Fox, which equates to 25 per cent of the games being behind a paywall.

In our scenario, with both semi-finals and the final guaranteed to be live on Seven, that would mean seven group stage games would be behind a paywall, a significant number for a relatively short tournament.

The broadcasters may completely disregard a plan like this due to the season only containing 27 matches, especially with Seven disputing its contract with Cricket Australia over whether they are getting good value for their money.

This plan may be considered to be very hypothetical indeed but perhaps the ‘less is more’ approach at least can be taken into consideration to refresh the BBL.

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