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Opinion

Against the odds, it’s been a brilliant BBL season

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Expert
25th January, 2021
17

Excitement for this season’s Big Bash was perhaps lower than its ever been but, against the odds, it’s proven to be one of the best yet.

Casting our minds back seven weeks, prior to the first game of the BBL’s tenth season, and a familiar cynicism around Australia’s domestic T20 tournament had resurfaced.

Except this year, it was scepticism on steroids.

There was scepticism that the season may not even finish due to Covid-19, that the pandemic would see a dearth a quality across the board, and that crowd-less games would kill what some deemed an already suffering product.

To throw the cherry on top, there was ever greater cynicism that the new rules would further alienate ‘real’ cricket fans who smell a gimmick quicker than most.

But those doubts have not eventuated.

And to the credit of Cricket Australia, who cop their fair share of whacks on these very pages, the season has been a genuine success considering the conditions it has been played in.

Amid complex border situations, Cricket Australia has been quick to shift games when needed and have enacted contingencies quickly.

The worry regarding talent has similarly not eventuated.

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Nathan Coulter-Nile

Does the BBL need DRS? (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

While some Australian players spent extra periods with the Test team which rendered them unavailable for large periods of the season (Sean Abbott, Michael Neser, Moises Henriques and Mitchell Swepson), the impact on the product has — despite the Seven Network’s claims — been minimal.

The level of international quality has remained largely the same.

Which is, it must be said, quite good.

The Big Bash salary space means it will never compete with what the IPL offers, or even what the UK’s new Hundred competition will offer, but it punches above its weight with the players it attracts.

The claims that the competition grants too many games to club cricketers is a tired argument not grounded in fact.

Of the few club cricketers that do get a game, some shine like Ben Manenti in BBL|08 and Peter Hatzoglou this season — one of the best stories of the summer.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the BBL rule changes have been a real success.

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There was little confidence (including from this author) that the new rules would deliver on their promise, and the names (Bash Boost, Power Surge, X-factor) hardly allayed any of that aforementioned cynicism.

But each has allowed for good tactical discussions during the games.

Both Aaron Finch, Australia’s T20 captain, and Dan Christian, the BBL games record-holder, have given the new rules a big tick.

“I’m old school, I don’t like change too much,” Christian said regarding.

“I think the game was in a really good place, but in saying that, I think it’s been really fantastic and has really generated some excitement and some interest into the BBL so far this year.”

Finch said the Power Surge, where the batting team decides when to take their final two power play overs (whereby only two fielders are allowed outside the inner-ring) has been a game-changer.

“I really like the power surge and I don’t think that everyone has quite got their head around how hard it is to bowl in it,” Finch said prior to the Renegades’ game against the Heat on Saturday.

Dan Christian

Dan Christian. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

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“In the power play (overs one to four) you’re generally bowling to new batsmen, and even in the last two overs you’ll generally have one new batsman. But with the power surge you’ve got an old ball bowling to guys that are already in, which makes it incredible difficult.”

Finch said he was also supportive of the X-factor, where teams can substitute a player at the halfway mark of the first innings for any player who is yet to bat, or has bowled one over or less, although this has been the least impactful new rule.

“I think it’s probably a little bit too soon in the game to be able to make that call on a player…but I like the concept of it.”

Without doubt the rule changes, especially the Bash Boost point, has been helped by the competitive nature of the season.

For much of the second-half of the campaign, sides sitting second to seventh have been separated by a game or less, amplifying the importance of each result.

It also means that today’s triple-header won’t feature tired games limping towards a final series.
The momentum has remained this season, which has been key.

Of course, the BBL is still a flawed beast.

The length of the regular season (14 games per club) remains still too long, and it’s through luck this season that results have kept things interesting.

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In negotiating the next rights deal for 2024/25 and beyond, Cricket Australia needs to address this, although given they will almost certainly take a cut on the unprecedented amount they received in the current deal, that may not eventuate.

Further, the in-stadium experience can grate, and the games suffer from slow over rates, although that is far from a BBL-specific issue.

But overall this season has undoubtedly been a good one, and perhaps prompted some fans to reconsider what they truly want from the Big Bash.

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It is never going to provide the intrigue and nuance of a Test series, not least the one we’ve just witnessed.

But it doesn’t pretend to do that.

It’s a constant presence in the summer with few real competitors, and as such continues to get good ratings despite remaining a popular code to bash.

The finals series shapes as a close-run race, and without the Australian team in action for another month, will rightly get the space it deserves.