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Opinion

Australian cricket calendar overhaul on the way - shaking up summer to strike right balance between Tests and BBL

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Expert
16th January, 2024
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Australia’s summer is going to start to look a whole lot different with all home internationals done and dusted by the SCG Test at the turn of the new year. 

In a bid to remove the annual Test versus Big Bash League battle for star players and TV viewership, Cricket Australia is set to bring matches against touring teams to the front end of summer in November.

The current schedule of a two-Test contest against the West Indies, which starts on Wednesday at Adelaide, followed by two sets of three-match ODI and T20 series in February, will become a thing of the past.

Under the new format flagged by Cricket Australia CEO Nick Hockley, they can get through their T20 and ODI fixtures early in the summer and then roll through their Test schedule to finish with the traditional dates of Boxing Day in Melbourne and January 3 in Sydney.

By frontloading the summer with internationals it means they can have their household name Test players available for the final three weeks of the BBL during the school holiday window when finals spots are on the line. 

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 11: Jason Holder of West Indies bowled Mitchell Starc of Australia for 11 runs during day four of the Second Test Match in the series between Australia and the West Indies at Adelaide Oval on December 11, 2022 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Sarah Reed - CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

(Photo by Sarah Reed – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

It makes a lot of sense on a number of fronts but it means the venues outside of Sydney and Melbourne can pretty much give up on hosting Tests during the school holiday window. 

Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart have shown that they get bigger crowds to BBL games anyway so the slight reduction in Test attendances will be more than compensated by a likely spike in T20 crowd numbers, particularly if the drawcards of the best CA-contracted players are available as much as possible for their respective franchises. 

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Even if a Test player like Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne is not the greatest exponents of T20 cricket, their presence as a household name is an undoubted boost for the competition whenever they play, much more so than an imported short-form specialist unless they’re the very best. 

And the very best save themselves for the IPL. The BBL hasn’t been able to attract the world’s top players for many years so it’s a smarter option to create space for Australia’s name brand contracted players who strike a chord with the competition’s younger demographic.

Cricket Australia also needs to look at the two other forms of men’s cricket at the domestic level to fit them into the crowded schedule correctly.

As it stands, the Marsh Cup 50-over tournament, runs from late September to the middle of November and then reconvenes in early February after the BBL is over.

It used to be a full two-round competition between the six states but it is now a “half-pregnant” seven matches for each team with the top two making the final.

Just cut it back to playing every opponent once to create space for games of greater relevance. 

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The Marsh Cup is no longer considered much of a breeding ground for Australia’s 50-over side. T20 specialist Tim David was picked to make his ODI debut a few months ago despite having played just one domestic one-dayer for Tasmania two years ago.

Of the team which won the World Cup in India in November, playing in the Marsh Cup is rarely on their radar – it’s worth keeping the competition running even in the age of T20 taking over the white-ball landscape but it can soak up less of the schedule.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 04: (L-R) Jake Fraser-McGurk of the Melbourne Renegades; Wes Agar of the Adelaide Strikers; Matt Gilkes of the Sydney Thunder; Lance Morris of the Perth Scorchers; Matt Kuhnemann of the Brisbane Heat; Joe Burns of the Melbourne Stars; Paddy Dooley of the Hobart Hurricanes and Moises Henriques of the Sydney Sixers pose during the 2023-24 Big Bash League season launch at the Moore Park Driving Range on December 04, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images for Cricket Australia)

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images for Cricket Australia)

The Sheffield Shield should be given more rounds before the BBL instead. By doing that, it gives more of an opportunity for a fringe Test candidate to show they are ready for the next level early in the summer before the squad is selected to face whichever touring team is heading Down Under. 

And when the competition is paused for the BBL, that is the time to schedule a few Australia A red-ball fixtures so that players who may be needed for late-summer tours can keep their form up. 

Not every first-class cricketer has a Big Bash contract. The nations at the lower end of the Test world rankings would love to have the opportunity to send their fringe players to Australia for clashes in December and January against the best of our rest. 

Players like Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris and Will Pucovski were quick to put their hand up for the hastily arranged two-dayer against Pakistan last month when the touring team let it be known they needed more match practice. Those kind of fixtures should be hard-baked into the summer schedule.

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BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 28: Cameron Bancroft of Australia A bats during the four day match between Australia A and New Zealand A at Allan Border Field on August 28, 2023 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Cameron Bancroft batting for Australia A. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

While the Pakistanis gave Australia a good run for their money before going down 3-0, the West Indies are unlikely to be too competitive with their weakened side. 

Next summer, Australia are slated to host Pakistan in a white-ball series in November before their five-Test contest with India. That should mean the Test stars can be available for the business end of the BBL before they head to Sri Lanka in February for their next international commitments. 

A similar scenario will unfold in 2025 with India touring in October and November for white-ball fixtures/money-spinners followed by the Ashes, BBL and a February assignment to the subcontinent for the T20 World Cup. 

Waving the white flag to February to the winter footy codes won’t please traditionalists who yearn for the old days of teams touring right up until the start of the NRL and AFL seasons but it makes sense for cricket to shift international matches to the start of the summer.

The BBL and WBBL are integral components of Cricket Australia’s plans to grow the game on home soil and also ensure our best players don’t end up in the UAE or another IPL offshoot league instead.

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