BBL draft postponed again, tournament to finish in late January

a crowd of people watching a person on a court: The finals series will be held while the school holidays are still on which is hoped will lift crowds © Getty Images

© Getty Images
The finals series will be held while the school holidays are still on which is hoped will lift crowds © Getty Images

The proposed BBL draft for overseas players has been postponed for another year due to the ongoing uncertainties created by the pandemic.

Initially pushed back from the 2020-21 season, it had been hoped to get the system up and running for this campaign but instead overseas players – up to three per club – will be signed in the traditional way.

The contracting embargo has now been lifted, which means clubs can start building their lists for the tournament which will begin on December 5, with defending champions Sydney Sixers scheduled to face Melbourne Stars at the SCG, three days before the first men’s Ashes Test. The season has been scheduled as a full home-and-away competition although Covid-19 will keep everyone on alert.

Some BBL coaches had expressed uncertainty about the draft system in recent months, but Cricket Australia still wants to implement it in the future.

“We really like the idea of an overseas player draft and it’s something that will be on the agenda again next year,” Alistair Dobson, the general manager of Big Bash Leagues, told ESPNcricinfo. “But when we’ve considered the continuing challenges with overseas travel and the need to give players and clubs some certainty, we’ve made the call to postpone it for another year.

“There’s always different opinions and that’s what we love about sport broadly. Across the board our clubs are aligned on the model, it’s just clear this isn’t the year to try it. We are still incredibly confident we’ll get great players in.”

Finished before February

The full BBL fixtures were announced on Wednesday – subject to changes needed due to Covid-19 – with the season starting and finishing earlier than recent summers. The finals series will begin on January 21 and conclude with the grand final on January 28 which is inside the school holidays. It is hoped that will help boost crowd numbers.

Key dates

December 5 Opening game – Sixers vs Stars, SCG

December 24 Hurricanes vs Stars, Hobart

December 26 Thunder vs Sixers, Sydney Showground; Scorchers vs Renegades, Perth

January 1 Hurricanes vs Heat, Hobart; Sixers vs Renegades, Coffs Harbour

January 18/19 Final round of regular season

January 21 Eliminator

January 22 Qualifier

January 23 Knockout

January 26 Challenger

January 28 Final

It also means the competition will finish before the Australia men’s white-ball commitments begin against New Zealand which could make more of those players available for their clubs, although it remains unlikely that those part of the Ashes series will have a chance to take play.

The England Lions squads which will tour concurrently to the main Ashes group for part of the series could be a source of overseas players as well as the Afghanistan Test team who play Australia in late November. “Having them already in the country would certainly remove some barriers that would otherwise exist,” Dobson said.

As with last season the group stages will finish with a triple header although overall only four days have been shaved off the overall length of the competition (59 down to 55). Once the tournament starts there are only four days – the first three of the Adelaide day-night Test and Christmas Day – without matches in the regular season.

© KFC Big Bash

© KFC Big Bash
© KFC Big Bash

International clash viewed as a benefit

There will be seven days when BBL matches overlap with play in the men’s Ashes series if games go their full distance: two during the day-night Test and all five days of the final match in Perth. There is also the likelihood of a number of matches running into each other on double-header days. The late morning slot which was trialled last season around the day-night Test won’t be replicated.

“BBL has always coexisted with international cricket,” Dobson said. “We know from a broader audience perspective that the stronger the summer of Test cricket the more successful the BBL is in terms of the halo that the men’s Test season brings, and none more so than an Ashes series.

“It’s not just TV but attendances as well because crowds are such a big part of the BBL, where there are games head-to-head on TV they aren’t in an attendance perspective, so like any scheduling process it’s a trade-off and balance of different considerations.”

It will be confirmed in the coming weeks if all three innovations brought into the playing conditions last year – Power Surge, X-Factor and Bash Boost – will continue. The Surge was widely acknowledged as the most successful but Dobson indicated he was hopeful they will all get a second season.

He also added that ensuring matches are completed in good time is something the competition is very conscious of with some IPL games spilling past four hours.

The current Covid-19 outbreak in Sydney has provided a reminder of how challenging it can be to put on sports leagues in the current climate with winter codes having to set up hubs outside New South Wales. Cricket still has time on its side, although the WBBL is due to begin in Sydney in early October.

“We had so many hurdles to get over last year,” Dobson said. “We are under no illusions there are still challenges but have confidence that our track record and experience holds us in good stead.”