16/04/2024

Fans in the stands at Adelaide Oval. Image: cricket.com.au

For ten years, The Big Bash League has provided many highlights and much entertainment for cricket fans around Australia and the world. The Inner Sanctum recently surveyed fans of the BBL to get their thoughts on some of the league’s biggest talking points.

The vibrant colours, big hits, loud music, and bright lights of the Big Bash League are all emblematic of its appeal to fans and viewers: it provides fun, entertaining, and bite-sized cricket, engineered to attract a broad audience. 

And while there is an evident appeal to a younger contingent of cricket fans, the quality of cricket on display when the BBL is at its peak is an attractive proposition to even the most critical observer.

Yet, many would argue that the BBL in its current state is a far cry from what can be considered its glory days just a few seasons ago. 

Perhaps most symbolic of this was the 13th match of BBL|10, between the Brisbane Heat and Adelaide Strikers at the ‘Gabba. 

After the Strikers posted a middling yet defendable 150 batting first, the Heat slumped to 5/38 in the ninth over, and 8/68 just a few overs later. The result was almost a foregone conclusion.

But the unlikely partnership of stand-in captain Jimmy Peirson and young international Mujeeb ur Rahman dragged the Heat within a chance of victory. 

Adding 60 runs from just four overs for the ninth wicket, the Heat needed a very achievable 23 from 16 balls for victory when Mujeeb was dismissed. Then, despite conceding a four from the second ball, the Strikers’ Wes Agar managed to leak no further runs from the penultimate over, leaving the Heat needing 13 from the last six balls. 

A boundary from the first ball of the final over and a two from the following ball left the equation at 7 from four balls, but Peirson’s refusal to take a single from each of the next three balls meant the Heat needed six from the final ball of the innings to salvage a Super Over, which proved too difficult a task for Peirson, as the Heat fell just two runs short of victory. 

It was almost the archetypal game on which to base your expectations of recent BBL matches. The Strikers’ score and the Heat’s early chasing effort both appeared to be sub-par, but despite this, the match enticed with some entertaining moments, like the Heat’s late surge in the chase. Then after another twist in the narrative, it again threatened to be an exciting finish, but ultimately the finish and result were slightly underwhelming. 

The 13th match of BBL|10 was exciting at points, but ultimately, the finish was slightly underwhelming. Image: cricket.com.au

Some of the broader issues of the BBL are perhaps more difficult to diagnose and continue to be worked through by the powers that be.

The Inner Sanctum recently surveyed BBL fans, seeking their opinions about the state and growth of Australia’s premier domestic competition.

Participants were asked to share their thoughts on some of the topics of discussion surrounding recent and current BBL seasons, yielding 264 individual responses to the survey.

Over half of the fans who participated in the survey stated that they have followed the BBL since its inaugural season, while an additional 19 per cent said their interest in the league began in BBL|03 when the competition was first broadcasted on free-to-air TV. 

47 per cent of respondents said they watch BBL matches regularly, with an additional 27% stating that they watch matches occasionally. 13% of respondents said they watch every game. 

Nearly all participants said they follow Test cricket, with an overwhelming majority also followers of One-Day and T20 International cricket. Just over 45 per cent of respondents also stated they follow other domestic T20 leagues such as the IPL and England’s Vitality Blast. 

The Inner Sanctum’s survey questioned participants on four of the most prevalent talking points of the past few BBL seasons, namely BBL|10’s rule changes, as well as umpiring, DRS, and the competition’s fixturing.

Those who participated in the survey were asked for their opinion on which of these issues need addressing, with a substantial quantity of votes for each topic.

Rule Changes

Undoubtedly the most prominent talking point to arise from BBL|10 was the introduction of three new rules for the season – the Power Surge, Bash Boost, and X-Factor.

The announcement of the rules before the season drew much debate among commentators, players and fans, particularly about the need for the changes.

Many fans were of the view that the addition of these rules was “creating solutions for problems that don’t exist”, and neglecting the issues that may have existed before the season – putting “lipstick on a pig”, as one respondent described it.

However, a substantial quantity of fans suggested that having seen them play out, the introduction of the new rules possessed minimal negatives.

While the rules themselves admittedly seemed gimmicky at first, their addition, for the most part, was interesting and entertaining to observe, all enhancing the competition in their own way across the season.

All three were shown to add an extra dynamic to the game, promoting tactical development and flexibility, while also sustaining interest throughout typically dull parts of the game. 

Power Surge

Responses to The Inner Sanctum’s survey indicated that the addition of the ‘Power Surge’ – two powerplay overs in the second half of a team’s batting innings – was the most widely accepted of the new rule changes, with almost 60 per cent of participants stating that their reaction to this particular rule, after seeing it in action, was on the positive side of the scale. 

The Power Surge was particularly effective in allowing the batting team’s innings to accelerate – with an average of 24 runs scored in the two-over bracket by the team batting first. Some of the season’s highest batting scores involved an especially effective final ten overs, facilitated by the Power Surge: 

  • The Sydney Sixers recorded a Power Surge of 32 runs in an innings of 4/205 against the Melbourne Renegades. The Sixers were 2/75 after the first ten overs, adding 130 in the final ten overs.
  • The Sydney Thunder recorded a Power Surge of 38 in an innings of 5/232 against the Sydney Sixers. The Thunder were 2/109 after the first ten overs, adding 123 in the final ten overs.
  • The Melbourne Stars recorded a Power Surge of 49 in an innings of 5/193 against the Sydney Sixers. The Stars were 4/61 after the first ten overs, adding 132 in the final ten overs.

The aforementioned game involving the Brisbane Heat and Adelaide Strikers saw the Heat score 43 runs from their Power Surge, taking their score from 8/71 to 8/114 following the two-over period.

This two-over charge changed the entire situation of the innings, providing the Heat with the opportunity to get back into the game and accelerate late in the innings.

A successful Power Surge was key to the Thunder’s record BBL score, of which Alex Hales scored 110. Image: cricket.com.au

Bash Boost

The most divisive rule change among fans was the Bash Boost, a bonus point awarded to the team with the higher score after the tenth over of its innings. Over 30% of respondents to the survey indicated that their reaction to this change was neutral, and the votes for ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ were nearly identical.

The practical results and effects of this rule change are easier to quantify based on two specific occurrences during the season. 

During the match between the Perth Scorchers and Melbourne Renegades at Optus Stadium, the Scorchers batted first, finishing the tenth over with a score of 2/63. Despite starting slowly, the Scorchers recovered to register 3/185, which they defended easily, dismissing the Melbourne Renegades for just 89.

Despite winning by 96 runs, the Scorchers didn’t claim all four available points, as the Renegades, despite being eight wickets down, exceeded the required 64 runs after the first ten overs to attain the Bash Boost Point. 

This raised concerns over the validity of the rule. Despite The Scorchers recording such a comprehensive victory, they were not rewarded with full points due to their slow start. 

Another downside of the Bash Boost rule was also displayed in the final match of the regular season. The Melbourne Stars needed to win the match to reach the finals, and the Sixers needed only one point from the match to finish atop the table. 

The Stars posted 3/72 from their first ten overs and ended the innings at 6/177, but the match was all but over – and was subsequently void of interest – after the Sixers passed the Stars’ Bash Boost target in the eighth over. 

Even as the Sixers chased down the Stars’ target with a ball to spare, what would normally have been a thrilling match was robbed of the excitement and intrigue it deserved due to the extra point being awarded halfway through the second innings.

The Sydney Sixers sealed top spot on the table after gaining the Bash Boost Point against the Melbourne Stars. Image: cricket.com.au

X-Factor

The third of BBL|10’s rule changes, the X-Factor Substitute rule, which allows a team to substitute a player in place of another after the tenth over of the first innings, was the least accepted according to the survey. 

34 per cent of participants in The Inner Sanctum’s survey stated that their reaction to this rule had been ‘very negative’, while an additional 22 per cent stated their reaction was ‘negative’.

Just 13 per cent of respondents stated their reaction was on the positive side of the scale, highlighting the general reaction to the introduction of this rule.

 

One respondent stated that the depth of talent within the BBL is not sufficient enough to allow this rule to be completely effective, suggesting that if a player is “not good enough to be in the XI”, it’s unlikely they would have an impact “batting in the middle order or bowling a few overs.”

However, teams such as the Brisbane Heat and Hobart Hurricanes towards the end of the season used the ability to substitute players in a more tactical manner, both sides often utilizing a young bowler in the first over of the match, before subbing them out for another player after the tenth over.

While also effective for teams who lost a player to injury in the game’s first ten overs (such as the Melbourne Stars with Nic Maddinson and the Perth Scorchers with Mitch Marsh), the X-Factor Substitute rule was still utilized relatively infrequently throughout the competition, and despite its benefit for injury and tactical reasons, looms as the least necessary and effective of BBL|10’s rule changes.

The Heat’s Xavier Bartlett (centre) was a frequent victim of X-Factor substitution. Image: cricket.com.au

Umpiring & DRS

An issue which is perhaps the most enduring of the BBL’s talking points, the state of umpiring and lack of a Decision Review System was scarcely out of the limelight this season. 

‘Howlers’, as many refer to them, were all too common during BBL|10, with over two-thirds of respondents to The Inner Sanctum’s survey agreeing that the BBL’s umpiring needs to be addressed and reviewed urgently. 

Umpiring on-field is certainly a difficult job, as many respondents suggested, one noting that “having to make split-second decisions isn’t easy.” This is undoubtedly true, however with slow-motion video replays from multiple different angles available, it’s befuddling that these aren’t utilized, even in a minimal capacity, to review on-field decisions.

The BBL’s umpiring was thrust into the spotlight this season, following a few contentious decisions. Image: cricket.com.au

Hand-in-hand with this discussion is the debate surrounding the addition of a DRS, which evidently would provide players with the ability to challenge or overturn debatable umpiring decisions. A large portion of individual responses, when asked how the BBL could rectify the umpiring and DRS debates, suggested giving more power and ability to the third umpire to overturn poor decisions, many respondents suggesting to use the technology available as part of the DRS. 

An overwhelming 93 per cent of respondents to The Inner Sanctum’s survey voted that the BBL needs a form of DRS, with 52 per cent of total respondents suggesting this should be an adapted version of international cricket’s DRS, to suit the BBL specifically. 

The most pressing issue that’s been discussed in regards to the BBL’s lack of a DRS is the cost – the BBL and Cricket Australia haven’t viewed its inclusion as worthwhile due to high setup and running costs. 

However, there’s perhaps a more important factor to consider in this. Based on the amount of discussion currently surrounding it, the employment of a Decision Review System, even in its most basic form, is now more of an investment, rather than an expense for the league. 

With each passing ‘howler’, the watchability, integrity and reputation of the league are impacted further, particularly in the absence of a DRS, which prevents the poor decisions from being overturned.

One respondent suggested that the magnitude of each poor call is reflecting even more poorly on the BBL’s umpiring as a whole, despite the standard of umpiring perhaps being “better than viewers think”.

“The five or six jaw-droppers have put a real dampener on a tournament that’s so desperate to keep people invested,” the respondent said, adding that umpiring is “a tough job that seems to get tougher the more the spotlight is put on the umpires.”

This is perhaps the best way to summarise the debate – even though many umpiring decisions have been correct and accurate, it’s ultimately the ones that garner attention for being incorrect and inaccurate that occupy most of the discussion. 

In the wake of the DRS discussion, the BBL has suggested that a competition-specific DRS will be implemented in BBL|11, and while it’s unlikely to be the full model used at international level, its inclusion will undoubtedly be to the benefit of the league.

Fixturing

One final theme covered in The Inner Sanctum’s survey was the nature of the fixture, with nearly fifty per cent of participants voting that the BBL should reduce the number of games per season, and a further 21 per cent agreeing that the season should be condensed, playing the same number of games but over a shorter period of time. 

When prompted to share any additional thoughts on the matter, one respondent suggested that a shorter BBL season ‘needs to happen’, as it would make each game, and the entire season as a result, more meaningful.

Up until BBL|07 in the 2017-18 summer, each team played no more than eight games per season. This was increased to 10 in BBL|07, and 14, full home and away fixture in BBL|08, at which it has remained since. 

The increased number of matches has certainly thrust the fixture into the limelight as a major talking point. While it quenches the thirst for more cricket across the summer, the overwhelming response from fans, as evidenced in the results of the survey, is that the season is too long and should be shortened. 

A shorter BBL season would allow for Australia’s other domestic competitions to take precedence, which despite the BBL’s financial benefits is arguably a greater priority for Australia’s performances Internationally, rather than the governing body’s bottom line.

This was a talking point during the Summer’s Test series, as many were concerned that the lack of first-class cricket played before or during the series was to the detriment of Australia’s Test side.

The power to pick players based on first-class form was required during the series when changes to the team were needed, but minimal first-class games meant that this was not possible.

Evidently, this was one of many COVID-19 related challenges for the competition, but in a regular season, a lack of first-class cricket would certainly have similar repercussions.

The fixture formula of Australia’s cricketing summer will always be a challenge, but a shorter or more condensed BBL season would undoubtedly provide more flexibility to the scheduling of the Sheffield Shield and domestic one-day competitions.

Final Thoughts

It’s a testament to the BBL that despite all its shortcomings and points of debate it still manages to produce cricket of the calibre and quality it does. For all the lowlights and negative discussion arising during the season, the competition has certainly maintained its appeal to fans.

Indeed, BBL|10 was the most-watched Big Bash League season of all time, with just short of 45 million viewers across the season, as reported during the week, while statistics show that the BBL is Australia’s most-viewed sporting competition based on per-game views.

Based on the findings from The Inner Sanctum’s survey, there are several ways in which the league can continue to enhance its appeal. However, BBL|10’s viewership statistics suggest that the BBL has laid the necessary foundations to continue to be a prominent and attractive T20 league for both fans and players.

There might not be a quick fix for any of the current issues, but working alongside fans and stakeholders to identify ways to improve will go a long way to allowing the league to further improve and continue to be the appealing, entertaining fixture it has been in Summers past.

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