Shane Watson pleads for revitalised Big Bash League

Former Australian cricketer Shane Watson has pleaded for Cricket Australia to revive the Big Bash League by reducing the competition’s duration and welcoming more international talent.

Watson represented Australia 307 times before his international retirement in 2016, and has since established himself as a stalwart in several domestic T20 tournaments. He was named Australian Men’s Twenty20 International Player of the Year on three occasions, in 2012, 2013 and 2017.

The all-rounder captained the Sydney Thunder during the 2018/19 Big Bash League, but did not return the following season. However, he continued playing for the Quetta Gladiators in the 2020 Pakistan Super League.

Writing on his T20 Stars blog, Watson condemned the BBL’s organisers for not ensuring high-quality cricket was the number one priority, focusing instead on futile “entertainment gimmicks”.

“The BBL has really lost its way,” Watson said.

“The one thing that the IPL and PSL do is make the quality of the cricket, the product, the number one priority. They know that if this is of the highest quality possible, then the longevity of the tournament and the commercial growth and success will look after itself.

“The quality of the cricket has been put on the back burner in the Big Bash, and the entertainment gimmicks have been brought to the forefront.”

Shane Watson scored 1031 runs in 41 BBL matches.Source:AAP

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In 2019, Australian cricket fans voiced their frustration when the BBL tournament pushed deeper into mid-February, the majority of spectators losing interest as the regular season reached its eighth week.

The average attendance for the 2019/20 Big Bash League was 18,519, considerably lower than the 30,114 average in 2016/17 during the competition’s popularity peak. However, the gross ticket sales for the season’s entirety were not dissimilar.

“The BBL a few years ago was the envy of all cricket boards around the world,” Watson wrote.

“I was so fortunate to play the Big Bash League when so many of the games were very close to sellouts. One game that really stands in my mind was a semi-final against the Adelaide Strikers at the Adelaide Oval in 2016.

“Adelaide Oval was a sellout. The atmosphere was pumping.”

More than 48,000 fans attended the 2016 BBL semi-final at Adelaide Oval. But three years later, the corresponding knockout fixture between the Thunder and Strikers only attracted 15,963 spectators, a particularly disappointing turnout for a must-win fixture on a Saturday evening.

Average BBL crowds have been steadily dropping since 2017.Source:News Corp Australia

Watson blamed the BBL’s extension to 56 regular season matches in 2018 as the catalyst for the substantial drop in attendance.

“For me the writing was on the wall as soon as the new media rights deal was done and the tournament got extended out to seven home and away games,” Watson said.

“It has first of all meant that the fans run out of puff. Families only have a certain amount of money and time to come out to the games, so when it was five home games, I am sure they were much more open to coming along.”

Watson also called for an increase in the number of international stars per team. Because Australia’s most talented short-format players were touring India in January, last season’s BBL squads were filled with local club cricketers and unknown English pinch-hitters.

“In all of the other very strong T20 tournaments, the local international players are available to play, which because of the Australian team playing at the same time, this is not possible,” Watson said.

“Other tournaments have their local international stars playing as well as having four overseas players playing, which is producing some amazing cricket to play and to watch.”

The coronavirus epidemic has given Cricket Australia a license to experiment with next summer’s scheduling. Last week, cricket great Brendon McCullum suggested the BBL could add two New Zealand teams to generate interest and attract a wider audience.

International travel is unlikely to recommence for several months, but there is growing speculation a biosecurity bubble could be formed between Australia and New Zealand.

Brendon McCullum played 35 matches for the Brisbane Heat.Source:Getty Images

McCullum said BBL organisers should find creative ways to generate revenue amid the unique circumstances.

“If there is a shortage of international cricket, what an opportunity for the Big Bash which has probably tailed off a little bit in its fan following of late. What a great opportunity to launch that back into sporting fans’ eyes,” McCullum told SEN.

“Maybe bring a New Zealand team into the BBL, or even use New Zealand players as local players. There may be a distinct lack of overseas players wanting to travel, especially high-quality ones.

“It’s another opportunity for creative thinking and another opportunity to get some New Zealanders across the Tasman.

“I think we’ve got good enough players to probably have two teams. But you know, we’ll walk before we run.

“It can be for one season, but we’ve got to prepare for the long term too. If you’re going to grow the game and incorporate NZ into it, there may be some value there.”

McCullum represented the Brisbane Heat between 2011 and 2019. The former Black Caps skipper won a BBL title with the Queensland-based side in 2013.

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