In the beginning there was the IPL. And it was ok. Nothing special. Good enough for a laugh if you couldn’t happen to find a re-run of the Gilmore Girls on TV to watch instead. We didn’t think it would last all that long though, after all there’s only so much laughing at over the hill cricketers running around in tight fitting pyjamas that you can take, and surely the novelty would quickly wear off.
Time passed. More time passed. But the IPL was still with us. Strangely enough, it seemed to be getting bigger too. The endless lopsided contests, drug controversies, bankruptcies, Ravi Shastri’s histrionics, none of these seemed to be hurting its growth. In fact it seemed to thrive because of it. The IPL became a monster.
It didn’t take long before copycat tournaments began springing up all over the place, attempting to emulate the IPL’s success. None of them have so far succeeded: the Sri Lankan Premier League is too obscure, the South African equivalent too distant, and the Friends Life Cup too…..British. One tournament, however, shows the potential to come close, and in terms of sheer spectacle and absurdity perhaps one day even topple the IPL: the Australian Big Bash.
The first Big Bash season was a massive success, really the one good news story that Cricket Australia desperately needed after the ignominy of back to back Ashes defeats and the early eviction of Doug Bollinger from Australia’s Biggest Loser, Celebrity Edition. Completely new teams were created for the tournament, all with ridiculous names and even more ridiculous uniforms, with the intention of distracting the public from the fact that they contained the same rubbish players they already knew and hated for losing to the poms. Throw in a couple of big name overseas signings and bring some old timers out of retirement for comedy value and you have all the ingredients for T20 success.
This year’s edition looks set to continue that success. A sign of the Big Bash’s clout is that cricket boards around the world have been tripping over themselves in their haste to withdraw their native players from the tournament, clearly out of concern of the threat posed by the Big Bash to their own domestic T20 competitions. Never mind, the Big Bash rolls on. In the end the dispute with the Pakistani cricket board in particular was resolved (although the BCCI remain obstinate bastards as ever) and so Saeed Ajmal and Umar Akmal won’t be missing from this years edition (Shahid Afridi, thankfully, will be) and enough talent remains to ensure playing standards will remain (relatively) high. Mix that with flat pitches and friendly summer conditions and you have a tournament that even old episodes of the Gilmore Girls find it hard to compete with.
The reigning Big Bash (and world) champions, the Sydney Sixers, will be hard to beat again this season with Mitchell Starc, Brett Lee, Moises Henriques, Sunil Narine and Michael Lumb all on their books. Oh, and someone called Steven Peter Devereux Smith. You may have heard of him. David Warner will also be turning out for the Sixers this year, albeit just for one game at the moment, unless he’s dumped from the Test team (which sadly looks decreasingly likely). Which is a bit of mixed blessing really. Their crosstown rivals, the Thunder, nabbed Michael Clarke for this year’s festivities, but since he is rather less likely to be dropped from the Test squad, he really will only play in the one game. Despite also possessing Chris Gayle and Matt Prior amongst their ranks the Thunder look to again be the poorer, inbred relations to the Sixers this season.
The other rivalry in the league exists in Melbourne, where the Renegades and the Stars will be battling it out. The Renegades have Muttiah Muralitharan and Marlon Samuels on their books, whilst the Stars have Luke Wright. So whilst Shane Warne also (barely) turns out for the Stars, they will be by far our favourites in that little rivalry. Plus there is the off chance that Usain Bolt could turn up for a guest stint with them this season. Which is such a bloody brilliant idea we aren’t surprised in the slightest that Cricket Australia seem to be dead against it happening.
Then there are the single team cities. The Hobart Hurricanes benefit from having half the population of Tasmania turning up at their games (about seven people admittedly) and having the outrageously talented Xavier Doherty on their books. Plus some old guy called Ricky Ponting. The Brisbane Heat will have Dan Vettori and Kemar Roach this year, and considering that Dale Steyn will hang around to play a game or two, plus they don’t have to lug around the dead weight that is Matthew Hayden this season, might do ok. The Adelaide Strikers have Kieron Pollard, but that is thankfully compensated for by the fact they also have Saeed Ajmal and Phil Hughes playing for them.
And finally there are the Perth Scorchers, last season’s beaten finalists, who after a tour of the breweries of Johannesburg last month are still getting over their collective hangovers. Their squad is in a sad state at the moment, and to make matters worse their best player of last season, Mitch Marsh, will miss the competition owing to injury. Or at least that’s what the press release said. Considering that their other big pre-season acquisition, Patrick Cummins, was packed off to the morgue long ago, things looks a little dire out west. At least Brad Hogg is still playing.
It’s a sure sign of success when a competition is able to establish itself as a fixture on the landscape after just the one season, and that’s largely what the Big Bash has achieved. We honestly can’t remember what an Aussie summer was like without stupid uniforms and mountains upon mountains of KFC ads distracting our attention. This summer certainly won’t give us a chance to find out.