Cricket Australia is hatching an ambitious plan to revitalise the Big Bash League by helping teams recruit and pay for big-name overseas stars outside the salary cap, opening the door to the likes of India icon MS Dhoni and England World Cup and Ashes hero Ben Stokes.
On the receiving end of a barrage from Seven West Media in the past week over the network's concerns about a talent drain in the BBL this summer, CA is holding its ground ahead of crisis talks this week between Seven chief executive James Warburton and the sport’s interim boss, Nick Hockley.
MS Dhoni and Ben Stokes are just two of the names Cricket Australia would like to attract.Credit:Getty, Getty
Seven's principal argument in threatening to rip up its $450 million deal with CA is over the likely absence of even more Australian internationals than usual during the Big Bash season because of the need to have them secured in hubs for limited-overs and Test series against India, a short-form campaign against New Zealand and a Test against Afghanistan.
However, it has emerged that CA has not only been looking to revitalise the BBL in its 10th season with the proposed addition of a third overseas international on team rosters, it is preparing to open the cheque book like never before and assist teams in signing as well as paying for the game's very best players well above and beyond the $1.9 million salary cap.
The limitations in BBL salaries, the top end of which are at about $225,000, and the salary cap, which has only doubled in the past decade despite the ballooning of television rights fees, have made it challenging to draw top-tier internationals in recent years, as has the absence of an exclusive window in the calendar.
With the competition's international signing window to open on Tuesday, though, sources say CA is ready to dip into its own pocket to spend significantly more on overseas signings than previously in what would effectively create a lucrative marquee payment pool outside the salary cap.
England’s Ben Stokes is one of the big drawcards in world cricket.Credit:Getty Images
While the competition has had plenty of overseas drawcards over the years, from Kevin Pietersen and Chris Gayle to Kumar Sangakkara, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn, CA's goal is to have at least one and ideally two big-name international stars at each team in the one season this summer.
The holy grail would be having the door opened to Indian megastars like Virat Kohli featuring in the tournament. The Board of Control for Cricket in India forbids its players turning out in foreign Twenty20 leagues but former India batsman Suresh Raina has been among those pushing for the powerful body to relax the restrictions for those who aren't centrally contracted.
That category now includes former India captain Dhoni, one of the most devastating white-ball players of all time, who a fortnight ago announced his international retirement but who continues to lead his Indian Premier League side, Chennai Super Kings.
Stokes, who featured for Melbourne Renegades in 2015 and has since become one of the greatest all-rounders of the modern era, is another expected to be in the sights of CA, which is using Australia's relative success in combating the threat of coronavirus as another lure for players.
Australia and Sydney Sixers fast bowler Josh Hazlewood welcomed news of CA's ambitions on Monday.
"I know it would be great to get Indian players. I know they can't play at the moment," he said.
"The Big Bash is, obviously, one of the biggest T20 comps in the world and I always to get back playing, as I did last year with Smithy [Steve Smith] and Gazza [Nathan Lyon]. We loved that, a couple of weeks of playing Big Bash, huge crowds, great cricket.
"I know a lot of the clubs are going after big players around the world. It's a matter of getting them, hopefully. The product is awesome so, hopefully, it stays that way."
While Australian stars have made cameos over the years, the BBL has been unable to entice David Warner back in recent times. Warner had the opportunity last summer but needed a break after a hectic northern summer and prolific Australian summer with the bat.
His manager James Erskine maintains the BBL needs "clear air" if it is to give the Australian players the best chance to take part but the additional challenges of this summer make that even more problematic than usual.
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