In sport, there’s a fine line between tweaking rules to slightly improve the game and destroying the fabric of what is known.
This week, Cricket Australia introduced three “revolutionary” new rules that will come into immediate play for the tenth edition of the Big Bash League.
The ‘x-factor player’ is a substitute who can be brought into a match to replace a player who has failed to deliver in one over of bowling or hasn’t featured with the bat.
One would assume this would be used almost exclusively in the second innings for any team which posts a large total without the loss of many wickets, substituting an unused middle-order batsman for a bowler.
It’s yet to be determined how much of an x-factor a player would be if they are not selected in the best XI to start the match.
‘Bash boost’ rewards the more attacking teams who enjoy getting off to a quick start, awarding a bonus standings point to the chasing team if they are above the equivalent ten-over score.
Along with an increase of three points for a victory in the BBL this season, four overall points are now available to teams, replacing the two points that had been on offer over the first nine tournaments.
Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, is the ‘power surge’, which has split the powerplay into four mandatory overs at the start of the innings and then a block of two overs that the batting team can choose to use at any point in the second half of their innings.
Strategically, this is the most logical of the new rules, as teams will need to ensure they make the most of their set batsmen while considering game situation and perhaps the heightened risk that an attacking burst could cause an immense failure.
While the substitute rule had been earmarked in advance, making three massive changes unexpectedly just three weeks before the commencement of the tournament has caught many off-guard.
However, the validity of each rule isn’t necessarily the overarching issue.
A key problem across a number of codes in recent years has been balancing the integrity of the game with the desire to establish respective sports within the entertainment industry.
Headlines are almost always dominated by the AFL, but huge changes aren’t exclusive to the competition, with Super Netball, the NRL and now the BBL all taking a considerable slice of the cake.
The ‘six again’ rule was clearly the most successful alteration made and the NRL was clearly pleased with how it played out, but that was an outlier. Moreso, this rule was more of an extension, or a re-classification within an existing structure of rules and penalties, rather than any sort of novelty.
The AFL’s weekly tinkering of adjudication is frustrating, as is the constant talk of rotations and positions, but even the most popular competition in the country wouldn’t bring in nine-point supergoals in the professional home-and-away season.
Super Netball’s ‘super shot’ was met with enormous resistance at the time of its implementation and felt forced watching throughout the season. It is perhaps the most gimmicky change brought into professional sport in Australia.
In bringing in these three new rules, it feels as though the BBL is creating its own street, extending beyond the narrow path netball ventured down.
The reasoning behind new rules in any sport are almost identical – each code wants to create a more entertaining spectacle that is free-flowing and energetic.
Whether it’s opening up space, adding bonus points or rewarding attacking teams, it has become clear that Australian sport believes the way to reach the hearts of more people is to constantly create change, ignoring the majority who love the nuances of each sport.
Codes are now trying to manufacture entertainment, rather than allowing its skilled participants to put on a show.
There is a clear intention to focus on drawing external audiences, rather than pleasing those who love the sport all the same.
Now Cricket Australia is guilty of using the BBL as its guinea pig.
T20 cricket in itself was revolutionary, but the seismic shift was introduced as a completely different format and an absolute alternative to the traditional form of the game.
Even those who were most resistant to the format could accept T20 cricket as a separate entity to Test and one-day cricket.
Subsequently, we have seen T10 take place and plans for a completely new 100-ball format, creatively called ‘The Hundred’, were delayed until 2021 given the state of the world.
But in each of these cases, separate entities have been created rather than an adjustment to an ongoing and burgeoning institution.
The world’s most popular T20 tournament, the Indian Premier League, continues to make small adjustments but in terms of the fabric of the actual game, it remains relatively unchanged.
Perhaps the most outlandish rule change made by the IPL has been the introduction of timeouts. While controversial, they have actually been driven by strategic desire rather than the entertainment focus Australian sport has adopted.
The BBL has had its issues, which has mainly stemmed from the length of the tournament, which has never been nailed, and also international availability.
With the announcement of a third international spot in each team’s XI, as well as more recruits for each team, the league took a step forward.
The concussion substitute has been implemented globally and is vital for the wellbeing of players and has been a positive change.
These adjustments act as signs of maturity, which allow the sport to further evolve.
BBL10 will see novelties brought into the league that will make many question whether we can truly classify matches as genuine, T20 games.
We are yet to see drastic rule changes in cricket in this standalone manner in which Cricket Australia has chosen.
Perhaps other competitions will look at the BBL as a case study. Or, more likely, these novelties will confuse and one or two will not last long in any meaningful manner.
Cricket Australia has gone too far in its attempts to draw fans and manufacture magic.
Sport is the most organic form of entertainment there is.
Despite all its flaws, the BBL is arguably the most popular competition during the summer months in Australia, having a presence on an almost nightly basis to a large audience.
Maintaining a strong viewership and fan interest could have been achieved with the existing international player changes and a tightening of the schedule.
But in introducing these new rule changes, Cricket Australia has pushed the BBL right to the edge of that fine line.
Time will tell whether these changes are a success, but history is against gimmicks working.
Cricket Australia are still trying to establish the Big Bash League, but have taken the existing audience and fabric of the format for granted.
The beauty is in its simplicity, and the bells and whistles should be kept off the field, for the sake of game.