Many of us were on the edge of our seat last Wednesday when the Perth Scorchers won the 4th Big Bash Trophy off the last ball of the game, to successfully defend the league title they won last year, in what was their 4th successive grand final.
Being a Scorchers fan, you would assume I would get all warm and fuzzy over Australia’s T20 (20 over) cricket competition. In fact, I had no expectation that the team I support would even make it to the final. A week ago I trundled along to the semi at the WACA with my 11 year old son. Perth were playing the much vaunted Melbourne Stars, laden with international players, who were on a 5-game winning streak having beaten the Scorchers the previous week. Somehow Perth got over the line, despite not scoring a single run in their last over and lurching to 144 (160 is seem as a bare minimum score at the WACA, where the average winning score is over 170.)
To be honest I did not care all that much about who won, I was just loving the tournament and everything about it. Even my 13 year old daughter was into the Big Bash, as was my wife, and we watched almost every game, no matter who was playing, throughout the summer holidays, even when we were on holiday. We went to three T20 games at the WACA, one game all 4 of us went along, and we all loved it.
The Big Bash League was invented in 2010, after research showed that Australian cricket was in danger of losing an entire generation to the game. The young ones, and females of all ages, were simply not interested. Despite a T20 comp already in place, Cricket Australia, the governors the game, decided a major revamp was required and a franchised city-based T20 comp was designed, with the specific aims of bringing in spectators and fans who would otherwise not give cricket any attention at all. And boy how it has worked. This year, the 4th iteration of the BBL, has seen crowd attendances at games rise 20% year on year. Adelaide famously had 50,000 at its home games, in Sydney records were broken for all domestic game attendances with over 40,000 attending at the SCG (this beats the crowds that turned up to watch Don Bradman back in his heyday, well before TV made it easier to watch from home). Even over in Perth, the WACA creaked to 19,000+ in attendance last Sunday night, far more than turned out to see quality international teams like England play against India at the same ground 5 days later (the crowd there was a little over 7,000).
This all reminds me of what Channel 9 and Packer did back in the 1970s – they took the game by the scruff of the neck, invented day/night cricket, coloured clothing, white balls and wall to wall marketing. 40 years on, if cricket is to survive, it simply has to make the most of the 20 over 3-hour format. It packs grounds out (a full house but with only 4 hours to serve rather than all day), brings in new spectators, new investors, new sponsors and a whole new audience. You can get down to the ground after work (they typically start around 7pm) and watch the game. It’s pumped out on free to air TV at prime time. There are colourful characters, great catches, huge sixes, frenetic running, skillful bowling. Even the commentators are more youthful, with open neck shirts and howls of laughter, a mile away from the besuitted Ch9 crew, who now look old and creaky in comparison. How the world turns.
I am a cricket tragic, a traditionalist (Test matches are still the thing for me) and yet absolutely love the T20 format. Invented by the British to revitalise the game over in the UK over 10 years ago, it’s been India and Australia (followed by South Africa, West Indies and New Zealand) who have developed their own leagues that attract players from around the world, showcasing yesterday’s heros and today’s up and comers. In the meantime, as is their wont, England have dropped the ball and put their T20 on successive Friday nights over a 3-month period. Guess what? 7,000 people show up at best (average attendances across Australia, with a far smaller population was three times this per game). England need to rethink things quickly, or become an afterthought.
So, all hail Cricket Australia, and Big Bash league, all power to you.