The steady transformation of one-day cricket over the last few years has been well documented. Batting continues to become more and more expansive and ingenious, par innings scores are steadily rising and bowlers and captains are subsequently having to come up with ever more intelligent and resourceful ways of sending opponents back to the pavilion.
The lines between the 50 over and T20 formats of the game are becoming increasingly blurred. In modern cricket, it has become clear that the majority of the batsmen who thrive in ODIs are also highly proficient in the shortest version of the game. As such, gaining as much experience in T20s is vital for an international cricketer. It explains why so many English players, in the year in which England host the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy, were found playing in the 2016/17 Big Bash League (BBL), Australia’s famous T20 tournament.
This showpiece of explosive and exciting cricket stands alongside the other premier T20 spectacles that are now viewed by players as significant events in the cricketing season, not just a chance to have a bit of fun trying to crack balls around a ground. It is no longer just an opportunity for those looking to make an impression at the start of their careers and or for one final swansong before they hang up their spikes.
For the latest instalment of this eight-team tournament no less than thirteen English players made the trip to Australia, all of them current, or former, England internationals. It is the highest number so far seen in a BBL. Some of the biggest names in English cricket such as Stuart Broad, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell were found Down Under, whilst exciting young talents like Jason Roy, David Willey and Sam Billings have also made their mark in Australia. Not to mention England’s ODI Captain Eoin Morgan.
And it is fair to say that in general they have thrived in a tournament that brings together some of the best short format players from around the globe. Indeed, five experienced Englishmen were set to appear in the two semi-finals that pitted Perth Scorchers against Melbourne Stars and Sydney Sixers against Brisbane Heat. Ultimately it was the Scorchers who won their third title in four years, with Bell playing his part with a good knock of 31, coming in at number 3. During the tournament, Billings and Roy provided some eye-catching performances for the Sixers, whilst Morgan ended his commitments for Sydney Thunder with an undefeated 71 that included a match-winning six off the final delivery. Stuart Broad had a major role to play in Hobart Hurricanes' campaign, the highlight being his involvement in the highest run chase in the competition’s history as he hit the 11 runs in four bowls in the final over. Two England Big Bash veterans with a combined nine tournaments between them, Kevin Pietersen and Luke Wright, again excelled for Melbourne Stars. Pietersen has now scored more runs than any other Stars batsmen.
So what is it that it is making the Big Bash more and more appealing to English cricketers? There is no doubt that the level of players involved is an attraction. Professional cricketers want to be up against the best around. And there many of them at the Big Bash. As well as the numerous Australian internationals fans are treated to the likes of Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Bravo and Kumar Sangakkara.
A criticism often levelled at English players is the struggles they go through when playing on wickets and in conditions different to those at home. Just look at the recent series whitewash away in India, or think back to the last Ashes series played in Australia. And whilst the Big Bash is a complete contrast to Test cricket, it is a fine way for players to test and challenge themselves on wickets that are faster, harder and bouncier than in England. Having the ability to adapt to different playing environments is important for any cricketer but especially for those with aspirations for international success. Young cricketers should take note of these experienced players still wanting to step out of their comfort zones.
The standard and exposure involved also makes the tournament a great chance to show off international credentials. How many of these English players could be playing in Australia again next year in the ODIs and T20s that proceed the Ashes? It was thought that Broad in particular was desperate to remind the England selectors of his enduring abilities with the white ball. The 2017 ICC Champions Trophy, now just five months away, must certainly motivated those without guaranteed places in the squad, such as Chris Jordan and David Willey. With plenty of competition for places, it is no surprise that such individuals are now trying to take every opportunity they can get, despite the extra mileage it involves.
It is also beneficial to get experience of playing in some of the grandest stadiums in the sport, of which the Big Bash has a few. The Adelaide Oval, Sydney Cricket Ground, the WACA, the MCG and the Gabba in Brisbane are names that resonate within the cricketing world. As a spectacle in general it has become one of the most eagerly anticipated events on the cricketing calendar. The average attendances at all the grounds are far in excess of 20,000 and the TV audiences are huge – over a million tuned into the final alone. The atmosphere within the stadiums, particularly in the latter stages, is electrifying. It dwarfs our own Natwest T20 Blast. Why wouldn’t English players want to be a part of such a tournament?
There is no doubt that the Big Bash League is now one of the biggest and most popular tournaments in the game. The one problem? We now have another 12 months to wait for the next one…