In Australia, February is a time when people get together to talk about how the Big Bash has overstayed its welcome. It’s become a bit of a tradition really. This year was no better than the previous two versions, despite successive alterations to the format. It was, if anything, even worse. A season that began fairly brightly, and really took off in the middle parts, ended in a whimper. Most fans would have been hard pressed to remember that it was still running. It didn’t help that both semi-finals were fairly sad affairs, and that the final itself only better because it was played in front of 20,000 pissed up Perth fans. Anything would be enjoyable in those conditions, we imagine.
There had been a desperate attempt in the Melbourne press to build up the Melbourne Stars vs. Hobart Hurricanes game as some sort of grudge match, based mostly around suggestions from Tim Paine that the Stars had been rorting the salary cap. It was all very much a media beatup that deceived precisely nobody; the Melbourne sporting public stayed away in their droves. Most of the Stars players didn’t bother turning up either, as the previously unbeaten side was bundled out of the comp at the first time of asking. For the third year in a row. As funny as watching the Stars fail is (and even then it was less funny than last year’s effort owing to the retirement of Shane Warne), it rather does say a lot about the awfulness of the Big Bash format when its best participant over its history is still yet to qualify for the Champions League. But whatever.
The second semi-final was, somehow, even worse. It seemed for a while that the Sydney Sixers would progress to the final by default owing to a wash out. This was deemed by everyone to be a terribly unfair result, partly owing to the spectacular century by Craig Simmons that lifted the Scorchers to 193 from their 20 overs, but mostly because the Sixers had had the arrogance to play two Englishmen: Ravi Bopara and Michael Lumb. Both were, predictably, awful. And although the Sixers had shown the sense earlier in the tournament to ditch Chris Tremlett after one hopeless appearance, the promise of a final which involved as few Englishmen as possible was one that had most people backing the Scorchers. In the end the Scorchers won after a five over Sixers innings that never really looked like running down the 54 run target set. Which set up a final between the Scorchers and the Hurricanes. Not everyone’s first choice, but at least it was being played in Perth, which would ensure a packed house and no more rain.
The final itself was a very one sided affair. Despite a few hiccups early in their innings, the Scorchers always looked comfortable in winning their first Big Bash title. In their third final. All played at home too, mind. Mitchell and Shaun Marsh ensured they had more than enough runs for their bowling attack to defend. Brad Hogg was, as usual, the standout with the ball. Disgustingly so too, since he is about 60 and can barely walk in-between overs.
In the end though, despite our moaning about what really was a pitiful final series, this had been a breakout season for the Big Bash. The move to free-to-air television proved to be a master stroke. Channel Ten’s coverage was largely excellent, and the ratings reflected that. Cricket on prime time is usually a winner, and the fact that Channel Nine had deliberately snubbed bidding for tournament made its success all that more satisfying.
It’s not all roses though. The length of the tournament is still a major issue. The organisers tried to fit it around the international domestic calendar and, bizarrely, the Winter Olympics, but it didn’t really work. It’s far closer to hitting the mark than, for example, the hideously over-bloated IPL is, but it could still stand to lose a little of the extra flab. The rather rubbish performance of a number of overseas signings (most of them English, who woulda thunk it?) was also a concern. But the trend of signing out of season Englishmen shouldn’t necessarily be discarded totally, just approached with a bit more forethought and planning.
The biggest problem, though, still is, surprise surprise, that utterly fucking awful, wretchedly bad, pile of crapping shit that is the Sydney Thunder. They at least won one game this season, but were utterly thrashed in all the rest. Signing Michael Hussey didn’t fix things, and so someone such as Kevin Pietersen is hardly likely to next time around either. Either the franchise needs to be completely overhauled or ditched entirely and whatever salvageable is left (i.e. not much) merged with the other teams. Leaving Stadium Australia would be a good start. That place is as about as joyless as we imagine a reunion of Jim’ll Fix It would be.
But, all in all, this season was very much a strong step forward for the Big Bash. It ain’t the biggest contender out there, or the most attractive. Nor will it probably ever be. But there is something appealing about it nonetheless. Perhaps it’s the mix of genuine quality with abject awfulness that most games encompass that makes it so accessible to even the most casual of sports fans. Certainly the ECB could do a hell of a lot worse than copy the Big Bash formula wholesale. Just remember to make sure it’s on free-to-air. And don’t call any team the Thunder.