“And lo, it came to pass that on the twenty-eighth day of the first month the golden child, both in hair and spirit, found redemption through his deeds in the most isolated city that man could find. Cast out by his fellows for lacking the true strength needed in every facet of his being (bar fielding), he rose above them all, striking a blow that resonated through the hearts of all those who built their houses upon relentless web-based criticism.”
The KFC Bumper Fun Book – chapter 31, verse 39, psalm 5 (New Testament)
December 16th seems a long, long time ago now. Back then the KFC T20 Big Bash League was just a hope for a better future (certainly a better one than the previous year’s completely different KFC Twenty20 Big Bash). Nobody knew if it would truly amount to anything other than a bunch of former cricketers enjoying one last day in the sun while being lightly mocked by a young cricket website. And yet, six weeks later, as it reached its climax (stop sniggering at the back) in the furnace of the WACA, it was fair to say that yes, it had been pretty successful. Not Candle In The Wind 1997 successful, but reasonably successful nonetheless.
Fox Sports reported some record viewing figures for the key games, with as many as 13 people watching the final. Those were of course in addition to the crowds at the games which were also impressive, with regular sellouts at the smaller grounds and more than 40,000 people watching the Melbourne derby being ruined by the weather.
That’s not to say that the competition was perfect. While the switch to city (rather than state) based sides gave it a new marketing angle, it certainly created confusion in New South Wales and Victoria. Fans found themselves with two brand new sides to choose from, with no historical attachment. Players were shared out in a fairly random manner, so previous rivalries became muddled. For instance, Simon Katich, unpopular in WA since defecting to NSW nearly a decade ago, found himself being cheered on by slightly bewildered fans in Perth.
In addition, there were a lack of top-drawer foreign imports. In some ways, this actually helped the competition distinguish itself from being an ‘IPL lite’, but it also showed up the (relative) paucity of money in the Australian game. The likes of Luke Wright, Paul Collingwood and Brendon McCullum may be well-respected pros but they’re not the sorts to get bums on seats. Interestingly enough, the one true superstar, Chris Gayle, played for the utterly hopeless Sydney Thunder, who finished bottom of the table after five consecutive defeats.
With next season’s tournament likely to take place over a similar Christmas/New Year timetable, the very best players (and Eoin Morgan) will be busy with Test cricket around the world. As such the responsibility to excite the crowds will again fall on former greats. Will the likes of Shane Warne, Stuart MacGill and Brad Hogg be as big a draw next time around? Or will other former players be tempted out of retirement – we’re thinking of the likes of Adam Gilchrist and Michael Bevan, rather than Dan Cullen – to provide a new set of interesting nostalgia moments?
Another issue that the Big Bash has created is around the Australian Test side. In years gone by, players stinking up the national side could be sent back to state cricket to score some runs or take some wickets. Of course, with no first class cricket for nearly two months their only option is to enjoy a spot of hit and giggle (again, no sniggering at the back). Having been dropped from the Test side, Usman Khawaja was hardly blessed with opportunities to restate his case for inclusion.
Anyway, these discussions can wait for next season’s competition. But what of the final itself?
On a blisteringly hot day in Perth, with the temperature reaching 42 degrees, the Scorchers won the toss and chose to bat. Sadly they didn’t make their traditional fast start. Herschelle Gibbs, so often the key man, slapped the first ball straight to deep square leg. Luke Ronchi, who filled in as a pinch-hitter when Gibbs was injured, was next in but lasted just four balls. At 2/2 the Scorchers were already in trouble.
And yet they were able to gradually rebuild. Marcus North made 22, before Paul Collingwood made his most significant contribution of the competition – 32 from 25 balls – and Mitchell Marsh blasted his way to 77*. The Scorchers finished on 156/5, perhaps ten or twenty runs below par but certainly defendable. Brett Lee (2/21) and Stuart MacGill (1/20) turned back the years with fine bowling performances.
In order to defend that total the Scorchers needed a good start. They didn’t get one. The Sixers’ opening pair, Moises Henriques (70) and Steve O’Keefe (48), put on an extremely impressive 110 in 12 overs. By this point the game was almost over, with the crowd indulging themselves with Mexican waves, beer snakes and (in some cases) being really drunk. The Scorchers struck back with three quick wickets but the Sixers were never in trouble and captain Steve Smith struck the winning runs with more than an over to spare.
After seven rounds of baiting Steve Smith, it was probably inevitable that he would be a key protagonist in the final. And yet we like to think that it was our gentle prodding that spurred him on to produce his best when it really mattered. Unlike when he played Test cricket and was cack.
By the time next season’s competition rolls around we might have some new targets for our scorn – fingers are crossed for Amjad Khan and Samit Patel – but Steve Smith will always remain the poster boy for our favourite greasy-chicken sponsored T20 competition. After all, without him, what could we possibly talk about?