It was the season everyone fell in love with the Big Bash: Andrew Flintoff singing Elvis songs on the fence, Kevin Pietersen’s shit laugh, Ricky Ponting losing his voice and endless chat about Celebrity Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Who couldn’t love all that? Plus there was some cricket played in there too. Apparently. But was it actually any good? Well, that’s what we’re going to try and figure out, because if the Big Bash is the new gold standard upon which all other T20 franchise-based competitions shall be based, it’s probably pretty important that it’s worth replicating in the first place.
Last season was really the breakout season for the Big Bash, in that it was the first time it was shown on free to air, and for many people their first introduction to the natural wonder that is Mel McLaughlin’s hair. It showed that people will watch cricket, any sort of cricket, if it’s made freely available. Which in turn raises the exposure of the sport, showcases hitherto obscure domestic players to a wider audience and in time supposedly leads to an increase in participation numbers. All of these are good things.
But what about the actual cricket itself? Flogging the Big Bash as a product has reached stratospheric levels, but it comes at a time when, somewhat ironically, the quality of the actual product itself is at a relative low. Succinctly put, this season of the Big Bash wasn’t all that good. Certainly not compared to past seasons. It’s hard to explain why exactly, but we’d argue it’s the cumulative result of under-performance from a number of overseas signings (such as Alex Hales, Luke Wright and Eoin Morgan), of local big names such as Aaron Finch and Glenn Maxwell failing to impress and even the absence of some big names who had appeared in past iterations, such as Sunil Narine and Steven Peter Devereux Smith.
Whatever the case, the Big Bash fell a little flat this time out, and was bereft of many really gripping contests. It all started well, when Tim Ludeman went ballistic in the opening game, and then Michael Hussey, Jacques Kallis and Darren Sammy did likewise, but then things rather went stale. Aside from the Melbourne Stars vs. Sydney Sixers game which went into a Super Over, and then the Stars vs. Melbourne Renegades game that was decided by the last ball, and was perhaps the most perfect T20 game ever played, there was a lack of genuine close games, and most were decided by the ball well before the end.
Our main gripe, therefore, is that the ball seems to have dominated the bat far more than in previous versions. Certainly there were far higher individual batting aggregates in seasons past, such as Ben Dunk last season and Shaun Marsh the season before, than there were this time round. Sometimes the ball dominating bat makes for a better contest as a whole; small run chases of 130 or so often make for better games. But here it just felt like batsmen were struggling because a lot of them were, well, not very good (or muppets, to use KP’s vernacular). The fact that Michael Beer (yes, that Michael Beer) proved to be almost unplayable does not reflect well on, well, everyone involved really. Certainly nobody took the tournament by storm, as had happened in previous years, and players like Pietersen, Maddinson and Carberry only performed in fits and starts.
In consequence, the middle part of the season very definitely began to drag, and we probably weren’t the only ones whose attention started to drift. A good thing, then, that the last two games of the season were absolutely brilliant, both won from seemingly impossible positions. Both semi-finals were largely non-events, which is something of a Big Bash tradition, but both games were (again) more notable for the size of the crowds that watched than the actual quality of cricket on show.
None of which is to suggest we are all just a bunch of tired old grumps (although we are). We love the Big Bash, and couldn’t think of a more fitting way to waste a few hours in front of the TV (other than playing Mario Kart 8). It’s just that we hope that it doesn’t follow other notable tournaments (*cough* IPL *cough*) and disappear into a black hole created by its own relentless hype. There were certainly some standout performances this time round (by James Pattinson, Jordan Silk, Jackson Bird (as always) and Shaun Marsh in particular) but on the whole, when a competition is more memorable for an interview between Ponting and Pietersen, or Flintoff’s commentary in general, you know things haven’t gone as well as they could have on the field.