Forget gimmicks, tactical innovations, and even international megawatt attractions to generate interest. Above all, local heroes trump in the domestic leagues. This applies to every sport, everywhere in the world.
Steve Smith, one of Australia’s all-time greatest sluggers, proves that to be true during a remarkable return to the rejuvenated Big Bash League, where he crushed two red-hot centuries in front of roaring crowds.
During the much-anticipated clash between Crosstown Sydney rivals and a duel with superstar national teammate David Warner, Smith cracked an unbeaten 125 of 66 balls to become only the second batsman in BBL history to notch for centuries in a row.
A lasting image – apart from his continuous power shots, marked by a beautiful swipe of the ball hitting the racquet’s sweet spot – was Smith throwing his racquet and helmet in front of a frenzied crowd of nearly 40,000 on the pristine Sydney Cricket Ground raised.
This capped a season of recovery for the much-maligned BBL, which has been hit by a couple of seasons of the Covid-19 pandemic and already on a downward trajectory from the heady highs it experienced in the middle of the last decade.
Several Australian stars, led by Smith and Warner – Australia’s best hitters of the last decade – returned to the BBL for rare appearances. For Warner, who has struggled unlike Smith, it was the first time he had played in the BBL since December 2013.
The pair are paid well – Warner is reported to be around A$80,000 ($55,000) a game Age Newspaper.
But it’s worth the investment as their presence helps the BBL shrug off the loss of a whole host of foreign players who have packed their bags for the more lucrative starting rival leagues in the UAE
Momentum had developed in a season full of exciting games, spectacular performances and controversy. The BBL has drawn much attention, aided by a lackluster international summer which saw Australia thrashed a listless West Indies and South Africa in one-sided Test series.
South Africa’s controversial withdrawal from a three-game ODI series set for mid-January – in a bid for its stars to play in their new T20 league – has proved a silver lining for Cricket Australia.
The ODI series would have struggled for traction given the format’s increasing obscurity, and the vacancy for the BBL has given it a chance to steal the spotlight.
It proved what many had thought for some time – the BBL should be a fixture on the Australian calendar for much of January. If other Australian players like Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc could participate, the BBL would really take it to another level.
But it has been a difficult balancing act for Cricket Australia to walk amid a crowded calendar and with their priorities still appearing to be international cricket – unlike other countries such as South Africa who know the financial fortunes of the T20 franchise cricket lie.
A multi-billion dollar broadcast deal clearly doesn’t put Cricket Australia on its knees financially, but it clearly wants the BBL to thrive and regain its reputation as the hottest ticket of the summer after a negative perception in recent years.
The best way to do that is to fill the competition with the best local players and create a spectacle akin to the SCG’s “Sydney Smash.”
The BBL is in the midst of renewal and will be shorter next year after players and fans complained their nearly two-month season was too long.
It will likely fit nicely into its main square during the mid-December to January Australian school holidays, clipping a few weeks from its current extended length.
But the jam-packed international program could get back on track in Australia next summer with Pakistan and the West Indies.
A slumping West Indies, who is unfortunately struggling to attract much interest, is likely to have a couple of Tests in late January/early February, which would likely prevent Smith and other top Australian players in the BBL from competing much, if all .
It is admirable that Australia still puts Test cricket on a pedestal – only their traditional compatriot England does.
But other nations that may be reading the writing on the wall – notably India, whose players are not allowed to compete in any T20 leagues other than their own – are making sure they have dedicated windows.
There is a lot of money to be made and it ensures that their local stars can put on a show for the fans.
Apparently that’s what Aussie fans want too, as was so beautifully illustrated at the SCG during a night to remember.