It wasn’t long ago that the Big Bash League -- with loud AC/DC songs, pyrotechnics and psychedelic jerseys -- was dismissed as cricket’s ‘monster trucks’ for the ever-impatient Generation Z.
Well, ‘the times they are a changin’. With overwhelming response, solid cricket and a touch of controversies (looking at you, Christopher Henry Gayle), the fifth season of BBL has seen it get the Australian summer’s top billing. Crunched cleverly during Christmas holidays and January’s school vacation, the 39-day, 32-match tournament has become the 9th most attended sports league in the world.
Read more: Gayle’s parting shot
To put things in perspective, the first one-dayer of the ongoing India-Australia series saw a turnout of around 14,000. In comparison, the 20,000-seater has been sold out for all of the Perth Scorchers’ matches.
It is perhaps a reward for consistent quality. Other than the transformation from the 6-team Twenty20 Big Bash to the 8-team BBL in 2011, not much has changed. Uniforms remain outlandish, and the music’s loud as ever. It’s a classic case of ‘if it aint broke don’t fix it’.
As early as 2012, the league had ‘Zing’ bails, helmet cams and mic’d up players. The TV-friendly gimmicks have since found their way into the international setup, with the LED bails proving particularly useful at last year’s World Cup. This season also saw the unprecedented ploy of an umpire asking for a helmet, later adapted by John Ward for the fourth ODI between India and Australia.
As for mics on players, well, who wouldn’t want to see Andrew Flintoff do a perfect Elvis?
Also TV friendly is the refreshing bunch of commentators who have received the all-important thumbs up from the netizens. The BBL commentators -- Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Mark Waugh etc. -- rarely indulge in sanctimonious punditry, and instead follow the action as fellow spectators. This isn’t a case of safari-suit clad gents clamouring about the *insert sponsor’s name here* maximums and catches. The banter isn’t forced; these commentators could well be doing the play-by-play from their living rooms.
While the above makes for good television, those in attendance have it even better. Cricket Australia is targeting families who may have had no prior interest in cricket with tickets priced at $20 (R932) for an adult, $5 (R233) for a child and $42.50 (R1980) for two adults and two kids. The usually hour-long, post-match autograph and selfies session with the players is well worth the price.
Last but not the least, there’s the cricket itself. The contest between bat and ball isn’t as heavily skewed, with this season witnessing only one 200+ total. Even with the ropes brought in, the boundaries are larger. Over the years, BBL has become a proven breeding ground for young Australian pacers. The likes of Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson, Mitch Marsh and John Hastings have made a successful transition to Tests after strong campaigns. More recently, the return of Shaun Tait and Shane Watson into the national team shows Cricket Australia keeps a close watch on the tournament.
The league works for local talent too because of the overseas players rule. A franchise is allowed to have only two overseas players in a squad, compared to the Indian Premier League where a team can have up to 11 in the squad, and four in the playing eleven.
It is not surprising then that former New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori has called for the inclusion of a Kiwi eleven. CA has ruled it out though, for its focus remains squarely on Australia with plans of adding two local teams. It has already introduced a women’s division; one which has got off to a flying start and is tempting Mithali Raj and Co. The Indians need not hold their breath though considering BCCI’s stand on not releasing players for rival T20 competitions.
Though not as revolutionary as the World Series Cricket of the 1970s, the BBL is slowly changing the face of the sport; for better or for worse is for purists and laymen to decide. Kerry Packer sure would be proud.