Time for Test cricket fans to do the annual ‘give BBL a try’ merry dance – it’s not for everyone … and that’s OK

With the Big Bash League kicking off on Thursday night, many cricket fans are doing their annual dance of trying to give the hit and giggle comp more than a passing glance. 

Many people who are old enough to remember the domestic scene prior to the BBL don’t give the “new” set-up much credence.

It doesn’t have the tradition of the Gillette/McDonalds/FAI/Mercantile Mutual/ING/Ford Ranger/Ryobi/Matador BBQs/JLT/Marsh Cup. Now there’s prestige for you. 

The Big Bash has been operating in one form or another since 2005 with the city-based franchises replacing the states a dozen years ago. 

But for Test aficionados, the pastel explosion of colour each summer dishes up the annual conundrum of whether it’s worth investing plenty of precious loungeroom viewing time or even a trip to the stadium to see the Bash in the flesh.

Ashton Turner cuts away from Jimmy Peirson in the BBL final. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

After all it is cricket but not the flavour many fans grew up devouring. 

It should be like pizza, even when it’s not your preferred topping, it’s never not good. 

Defenders of the BBL will tell you that if you’re a cricket fan and you don’t like it, then that simply means you aren’t the target audience. 

The BBL and WBBL are designed for kids to get them interested in the sport, an entree designed to get them feasting on cricket when they’re old enough to savour the longer feast of the 50-over meal deal or the unique five-day smorgasbord that is the Test variety. 

Australia’s indifference to the Indian Premier League is a huge saving grace for BBL executives. 

Fortunately for Cricket Australia, the IPL being played in the middle of the night Down Under has hampered its popularity on these shores. 

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

If India was in our time zone, the IPL would have much greater reach in Australia, relegating the BBL to second-class citizen status, which is what it is, but ignorance is bliss. 

It’s a dilemma that many Australian sports face – the proliferation of the English Premier League and NBA among fans in this country make it hard to market the A-League and NBL to hipster fans who turn their nose up at the local offerings. 

The BBL will only ever be competing for second spot on the global T20 pecking order, and may struggle to cement that spot particularly with leagues in the UAE and the US bankrolled by Indian conglomerates able to attract elite talent. 

Money talks the international language of players and huge contracts will make up for a lack of established franchises or fan bases. 

CA is making inroads into its perceived lack of star power by having Test stalwarts Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne and Usman Khawaja turning out for cameo stints in the BBL this summer, aided by a supplementary roster system being brought in. 

Solving the eternal problem of fitting in the BBL and the international fixtures in the summer schedule is all but impossible given CA is hamstrung by the constraints of the ICC Future Tours Programme. 

Whereas in days gone past, Australia’s first-choice players would be available for state and national duty in early October once the footy codes had held their respective grand finals, now the calendar space where the top talent is available has shrunk to December and January. 

It’s #BBL13 eve, and to mark the occasion, let’s relive the end to one of the greatest finals we’ve ever seen! pic.twitter.com/XQ6YgA4u3z

— KFC Big Bash League (@BBL) December 6, 2023

The name-brand players won’t even be in the country during the school holidays for Australia’s next Test tour to India for a five-match Border-Gavaskar Trophy assignment which is slated to start in January of 2027. 

The BBL will always face the problem of Test players being rarely available because there is no way CA will want to stage their marquee matches at any time other than the December-January window when kids and many adults are on holidays. 

For the Test snobs who look down their noses at the BBL, some of us will brush it altogether and others will tune in on opening night when the electric blue Brisbane Heat clash (both on the pitch and with their uniforms) with the green machine of the Melbourne Stars at the Gabba. 

It used to be that many fans would decry the BBL because there were grade players in the sides who were not even in state squads. 

Being a Sheffield Shield player has never been so anonymous as it is now so it’s kind of a good thing that most viewers who don’t recognise a BBL player wouldn’t be able to tell you if they were a regular on the domestic scene or not. 

For the BBL’s best home-grown talent there is also the carrot of a spot in the World Cup squad next year. 

BBL form will go a long way to helping the likes of Jason Behrendorff, Ashton Turner, Aaron Hardie, Ben McDermott, Matt Short, Tanveer Sangha, Spencer Johnson and Lance Morris get a gig in the national squad as only six more T20s are on Australia’s schedule before the showpiece event in June. 

Locked and loaded! ????

Tell us which squad looks best placed to take home the trophy ???? pic.twitter.com/6XmkzfS1wb

— KFC Big Bash League (@BBL) December 6, 2023

Cracking the first XI will be extremely difficult but there are worst things in the world than being a traveling reserve in the US and Caribbean, mixing the drinks and filling in for fielding duties here and there. 

The BBL has grown up a fair bit in recent years after shedding gimmicky novelty rules like the X-factor which sound more at home at the X Games than a supposedly legit sporting league which wants to be taken seriously. 

Whether the rusted-on Test fans finally start reverse engineering their interest from the long-form game to the shortest contest is not going to make or break the BBL. 

But hopefully some of the crickeratti are sufficiently entertained to tune in for more than a game or two here and there. 

As long as it keeps getting kids engaged, the BBL is serving the purpose. 

Someone is thinking about the children. 

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