With an increasingly cramped playing schedule, the Australia Cricketers’ Association (ACA) has called for a careful approach to Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland’s proposal to expand the Big Bash League season. Should Sutherland and the CA board have their way, the Big Bash will evolve into a full home-and-away league in 2018-19. More significantly, this would mean teams would play 14 games each instead of the existing 10. Also, the semi-finals and final would be moved to the middle of February so as to give the tournament more breathing space and greater play as far as airtime is concerned.
The ACA, however, felt such changes needed to find the right balance to ensure all stakeholders are happy. ACA chief executive Alistair Nicholson pointed out that the BBL was an eight-round competition as early as in 2016-17, and that these changes were “significant over a short space of time.” He also cautioned against favouring one format of the game over the others. “The players love playing Big Bash cricket, and it’s great for the sport,” he said in a statement responding to Sutherland’s proposal. “It’s one of the best examples of the partnership between CA and the players working well, and highlights how the players have driven innovation and the growth of cricket.
“Our feedback from the players is moving from the current 10-round season to an expanded competition must consider the potential impact on other aspects of the schedule,” Nicholson said. “One format of the game shouldn’t compromise another is a clear message from the players. And the 2018/19 summer is going to be a tough schedule to balance. But, with both a 50-over World Cup and an away Ashes series in mid-2019, it is vital all formats are taken in to consideration.”
In January, Sutherland had told ESPNcricinfo that the BBL hadn’t reached a “proper climax” in the past, and was as such sandwiched between ODI cricket and T20s that are played during the end of the month. In 2016-17, for example, Australia played Pakistan in an ODI in Sydney on January 22. The two BBL semi-finals were played on January 24 and 25. Another ODI took place on January 26, and then the BBL final was held in Perth on January 28. With a new cycle of television rights coming up, Sutherland reckoned that stretching the tournament to the first two weeks of February would create greater interest around the knockout games.
“We’ve seen clearly that the BBL and international cricket can co-exist and do at this time of year, particularly through the peak summer period, and then in February as we go into touring in other parts of the world. I think the climax of the BBL season can come through the first couple of weeks of February. Ultimately, we’ll play more games, it may well mean we play more double-headers. We certainly don’t want to be, by having more rounds, extending the season by a month. That’s not the intention. It’s about finding that balance.”
Nicholson, though, felt that apart from balancing the three formats, the players’ welfare, training and travel requirements, existing schedule, and the fans’ appetite for the competition needed to be factored in. The players’ feedback, according to the ACA, includes the desire to retain the Sheffield Shield final in March in the long term. It also highlighted the reluctance of a majority of the players to play BBL or WBBL cricket on Christmas Day.
Nicholson also batted for an increase in the number of games in the 50-over Women’s National League from the existing six games-a-side format, while also making a case for more longer-form games after a successful women’s Ashes Test. “Australian domestic cricket continues to produce the best high-performance environment for our elite players,” Nicholson said. “Our women’s domestic competition is the best in the world, and it produces an outstanding national team. Women’s cricket continues to break new ground and this should be across all formats of the game. The female players simply want to play more 50-over cricket to complement the ongoing success of the WBBL.”