As Ben Rohrer crashed the ball over the ropes for a six that secured a first title for Sydney Thunder, another magnificent Big Bash League was brought to a close. In recent years few sporting tournaments have captured imagination and support quite like Australia’s BBL. Each of the previous instalments of this T20 competition running back to 2011 have provided real quality, drama, tension and excitement. The 2016 edition was no exception, simply adding yet more weight to the growing argument that the Big Bash League is fast becoming the premier competition in cricket. One of the globe’s most passionate cricketing countries has one of its finest cricketing spectacles.
This year’s final encapsulated everything that makes the tournament so appealing. The Sydney Thunder, who had previously finished bottom of the 8 team competition three times, beat Melbourne Stars at a packed MCG in Melbourne when they chased down the 176 total with a mere three balls to spare after a flurry of late wickets. That match included a customary Big Bash beauty of an innings, this time from both Thunder’s Man of the Match Usman Khawaja, who hit 70 off 40 balls, and a certain Kevin Pietersen, who amassed a stunning for 74 for the Stars from 39 balls. Amidst the typically high-entertaining cricket there was a fitting send off for the great Mike Hussey who played his final game on Australian soil. The big hitting, athletic fielding and inventive bowling typified the whole tournament. It was joy for Thunder in their first final and familiar despair for the Stars, who remain without a BBL title despite having reached one final and four semi-finals in the 5 BBLs to date.
If you want to gauge just how popular the BBL has become, the viewing figures both on television and in the impressive Australian stadiums themselves tell you everything you need to know. Seldom are there any empty seats at grounds such as the WACA, the SCG and Brisbane’s Gabba. Outside of this tournament, it is rare to see 47,672 fans turning up to watch a cricket match like there were for the final. Strong attendances were seen across the country over the 5 of weeks of cricket with 7 of the 8 venues breaking domestic attendance records, average crowds reaching over 28,000 and over 1 million people in total going through the gates. An astonishing 1.1 million people also tuned in on television to watch it all unfold. Indeed it is the atmosphere these crowds create that make the BBL so enthralling and engaging to watch on TV and in some of the world’s finest cricket stadia.
The names that have been lured to Australia to play for one of the eight franchises involved provide an indication not just of the quality on show but the appeal the tournament now has for players from inside and outside of Australia. Kevin Pietersen and Jacques Kallis turned out for Sydney Thunder, Mahela Jayawardene for Adelaide Strikers and Kumar Sangakkara for Hobart Hurricanes to name but a few. Chris Gayle, perhaps the most explosive big-hitter that there has ever been, played for Melbourne Renegades and managed to equal Yuvraj Singh's world record for the fastest 50 in T20 cricket, hitting it in only12 balls.
In 2016 the Big Bash was again teeming with Australian internationals past and present from the likes of Mitchell Starc, Glenn Maxwell and Shane Watson to Brad Haddin, Mike Hussey and Brad Hodge. If you look at each of the squads that took part you realise that it shouldn’t be a surprise that the standard of cricket was so high and gripping. The tournament is the perfect shop-window for players in a sport where the ability to bowl with variety and bat expansively continue to gain prominence in its longer formats. Players have the chance to demonstrate their enduring class or make a point to international selectors. This was especially pertinent this year with the World T20 just around the corner. Indeed of the 6 English players who appeared the efforts in particular of Luke Wright, Adil Rashid and Pietersen, who finished 3rd top-scorer, will have been noted.
It is easy to give too much emphasis to statistics but those coming out of BBL05 just cannot be ignored. Over the 35 matches an astounding 11,013 runs were scored, 376 sixes hit, 412 wickets taken, an average first innings score of 163 and 5 centuries. The aforementioned Khawaja managed to hit 2 of those in only 4 games. There were yet again thrillers, remarkable dismissals and surprises – in this case Perth Scorchers being denied a hat-trick of consecutive titles at the semi-final stage. Other stand-out moments included the 177m six hit by Hobart Hurricanes’ Dan Christian and the demolition job from Chris Lynn for Brisbane Heat when he smashed 30 runs off one over from poor Ben Hilfenhaus. This year also saw the inaugural women’s competition, which was an unqualified success as Sydney Thunder pulled off a double for the franchise by defeating Sydney Sixes.
The dust has now settled after another raging success of a Big Bash. Whether you prefer longer formats of the game or not T20 cricket has added a sparkling new dimension to cricket and the Australian Big Bash League is at the centre of it. It continues to showcase ever impressive skills with bat, ball and in the field, offering up pure cricketing entertainment.