The inaugural Big Bash League has been pretty successful thus far, especially when you consider the reasonably harsh criticism that was thrown its way in the lead up to the first game last year. Crowds have been good, ratings have been good and most importantly the cricket has been good. It’s all been going so well that the rumours and talk of possible expansion have started already. But, is there a need for expansion?
Depth of talent
The danger of spreading playing talent too thin is very real, and it probably one of the bigger hurdles that the expansion argument has to get over. I don’t doubt that there is enough talent around to build another team or two, but you need more than a team, you need a squad. As the number of injuries prior to (and during) this years BBL have shown, squad depth is crucial in building a successful team.
All four Melbourne and Sydney teams have struggled (some more than others). Having to essentially draw two competitive T20 squads from a single state squad — even with the ability to recruit from interstate, depth was always going to be a concern.
Take the Sydney Thunder for example, you wouldn’t say they have struggled desperately this year, but their lack of depth beyond the big hitters, Warner and Gayle, has hurt them. Of course they probably didn’t count on Warner being called up to the test squad, or for Bollinger to get injured, or for Phil Hughes to withdraw from the squad. I guess maybe they’ve been a little unlucky. Yes, some of their younger guys have had an impact, but their batting in particular has struggled once Gayle has been dismissed.
Both Melbourne teams looked pretty good on paper, but both were slow out of the blocks. The Stars have now started to click at the right time, but the Renegades (who probably would have been my pick to take out the tournament based on their squad) are, at best, an outside chance to make the finals even with their big name line-up.
I wouldn’t call it a “fix” for the depth issues, but in the event of expansion more internationals would be needed. Even without expansion the ability to field more than two international players in a game might help some teams. But more doesn’t mean a thing if teams don’t recruit the right players. Several of this years internationals, Gibbs, Botha, Shah, Rana, Wright, have all gone alright. On the flipside Dernbach struggled in the first two games for the Stars and hasn’t been seen since, Razzaq probably hasn’t produced the type of performances he’s capable of, and Michael Lumb hasn’t as yet done a lot for the Sixers.
Clashes with the domestic seasons of other countries doesn’t help. New Zealand’s domestic T20 runs at the same time as the BBL, luckily Vettori and the McCullum brothers have still made themselves available for a handful of games. Dwayne Bravo and Fidel Edwards both left their teams early to head back to the Caribbean T20, Botha had to leave to join the South African side and as I understand it the BCCI wouldn’t allow any Indian player s to take part due to the clash with their domestic season.
Location, location, location
Canberra, Geelong, Gold Coast and Newcastle seem to be the locations most are be touting as possible destinations for any future expansion — all four were also rumoured to be “in the running” for one of the original ‘extra’ teams as well, and all were obviously unsuccessful. Whether they were unsuccessful because the additional Sydney and Melbourne bids were just better or whether it was down to things like financials, facilities, potential fanbase/population, ‘attractiveness’, sponsors etc we don’t really know. Although, that said, it probably wasn’t sponsorship related given the difficulty most teams seem to have had landing a sponsor or two (which is shame).
One thing working against Geelong and Newcastle’s chances are that there are already two teams within spitting distance. There are, of course, other possibilities. Darwin and Cairns were both seen as “good enough” locations to hold Test cricket — albeit against Bangladesh. Some people think NZ should be represented (more on that later). Or maybe take a leaf out of the Caribbean cricket book and invite one of the ‘lesser’ International sides eg. Netherlands, Canada, Afghanistan etc to take part.
This one is a kicker. One of the reasons expansion is being talked about is because the crowds have been good. How you get good crowds? By having a decent ground/stadium. Canberra has Manuka Oval which holds 13,500, Geelong has Kardinia Park which holds 28,300, and the Gold Coast has the newly upgraded Carrara Stadium which now hold 25,000. Newcastle’s main cricket ground apparently has a capacity of 20,000 … but I’m not really sure how accurate that number is.
Based on this factor alone Geelong and the Gold Coast would have to have the best chance, but I think this is one area that sadly hurts Newcastle’s chances. Newcastle of course has the updated AusGrid Stadium, but it’s the wrong bloody shape for cricket — silly rectangular fields.
Too much of a good thing
The inaugural BBL has been great, there’s cricket on almost every night — sure, I’ve got nothing done after dinner for weeks, but there’s been cricket on, and the cricket’s been great. More teams means, more than likely, more games. More games means a longer tournament which would then cut even further into the Sheffield Shield and Ryobi Cup — that would likely be unpopular.
The Big Bash League is 31 games played over roughly a month, teams play each other once. It would be nice to see all teams played each other twice, but that doubles the length of the tournament. However even that would still fall short of the 70-odd games in the IPL or the ridiculous 140+ games in the English domestic T20 — yes, they have a lot more teams, but damn that’s a lot of cricket.
Currently Fox Sports has the exclusive rights, or you can also watch it via the Cricket Australia iPhone/iPad app (which is how I’ve watched every game, and its great *when* it works). But I’d still love to see some of the games on free-to-air — it’s not like there is actually that much ‘quality’ TV on at this time of year anyway. Maybe a deal like the AFL or NRL have where all the games are on pay tv, but some are also show on free-to-air needs to be looked at for the future. You would imagine that this would bring in extra dollars, dollars that would be surely crucial for an expanded comp.
The Big Bash League only began this year, in reality thinking about expansion after just one year is crazy, the A-League was a hit initially too, but it waited 5 years until it expanded — and the success of it’s expansions have been mixed. The NRL last expanded in 2007, has has continually put-off further expansion in recent times, while the AFL has added two new clubs in the two seasons.
Domestic cricket ‘expanded’ in 1997 with the addition of the ACT Comets to the domestic one-day comp, that experiment only lasted three seasons — the ACT still, however, have a team in the Women’s National Cricket League.
If the Big Bash League expands, I doubt it’s going to be after just one season. Realistically its not something that probably needs to be seriously discussed until after the third season at the earliest — although any group/city seriously interested in putting forward a bid probably should be thinking about it now so they are ready at whatever time Cricket Australia feel is the ‘right’ time to make the Big Bash bigger.
As mentioned above, some people are suggesting that one or more New Zealand based teams could be part of an expanded league. Personally I think just having on trans-tasman team would be weird, but any more than that would struggle to work when you consider that the NZ domestic T20 comp is run at the same time as the BBL — and they already play more matches than we do. Sure you could merge the two comps, but it’ll never happen and I wouldn’t see the point anyway — for one, you wouldn’t be able to see the likes of McCullum and Vettori (who are currently playing in both the BBL and NZ T20) turning out for the Brisbane Heat because their likely preference would be to play for their NZ teams in any merged comp.
Before the Big Bash League came into existence the running rumour was that the respective cricket boards of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand were looking at the possibility of forming a “southern hemisphere league” — no idea how many teams they were thinking (Wikipedia say 3 Aus, 3 Saf, 2 NZ) but I doubt Cricket Australia would have been on-board if there were any less than the existing 5 Australian teams included. Then if you had five from each country the comp would have been huge and possibly not worked at all.
One possibility could have been to play a “first round” of games within each country, and then the top teams from each come together in a round-robin format to work towards the eventual winner. Who knows? Who really cares, it didn’t happen.
In the end I’m quite glad they didn’t go down this route, as the inter-state, or in this case inter-city, rivalry all adds to the fun. A Sydney v Melbourne game would always be far more interesting than say a Melbourne v Wellington game simply because of the pre-existing rivalry — the team names might have changed, but its still state against state.
The Final Serious Issue
Let’s say they add two more teams, what colours are they going to wear? Eight teasm was already stretching the palette. Yellow would be an obvious choice, but then what? Maybe they’d need to look at having different home and away uniforms so that then teams could have more similar colours without clashing to much on the field. Serious issue, that one…