Australian news February 8, 2011

Melbourne and Sydney given two T20 teams each

Melbourne and Sydney will each host two teams in next summer's new Big Bash League, and the Ryobi Cup will be pruned to squeeze the revamped Twenty20 competition into the calendar. Cricket Australia's board decided on Tuesday that Etihad Stadium in Melbourne's Docklands and Sydney's Homebush Stadium would join the six major Test grounds in headquartering Twenty20 teams, with Geelong's bid rejected.

However, although the limited-overs competition will suffer with the introduction of the Big Bash League, the board has for the time being kept its hands off the Sheffield Shield. The first-class tournament involves every team playing each other twice, culminating in a five-day final, and after Australia's Ashes failure it would have been a controversial move to cut any rounds or the decider from the Shield.

But if the Twenty20 competition expands beyond eight teams after next summer, something will have to give. Cricket Australia's chief executive James Sutherland said for the time being the full Shield schedule was safe, and there were other options if more calendar time was required to play all three competitions.

"It may well be that the Big Bash does expand and there are various options for us that can be considered as part of that process," Sutherland said. "There's absolutely no reason why the cricket season has to go for five and a half months or whatever it is. It can go for longer. We can play first-class matches in September in northern Australia or other parts of Australia if we want to extend the programme and ensure a full programme of one-day cricket or Shield cricket. There's a huge range of possibilities."

For now, the Ryobi Cup has been trimmed to eight rounds plus a final, instead of the existing ten. That will provide scope for the eight-team Big Bash League, which Cricket Australia could have used to grow the game in Victoria's major regional city of Geelong. However, a lack of floodlights at Geelong's Skilled Stadium, together with the desire to push into Melbourne's western suburbs, quashed that bid.

"They were all very close calls," said Mike McKenna, the Cricket Australia marketing manager in charge of the Big Bash League. "In terms of a lot of the measurements the venues were very even. The difference for us was the size of the market that we're going to be serving with two teams in Melbourne, the growth of those markets, particularly the very strong growth predicted in the west of Melbourne, and the team that will play out of Etihad Stadium will be serving that audience."

In New South Wales, the Kogarah Oval and Sydney Showgrounds were overlooked as the board opted for teams at the SCG and the ANZ Stadium at Homebush. The eight city-based teams will reveal their names and colours in the coming weeks, while private backers will also be sought for two new sides, with the existing state cricket associations each set to take charge of only one outfit.

The other major step will involve the distribution of players among the teams, and despite initially considering a national draft, Cricket Australia now believes free agency is a more likely scenario. Teams will be keen to secure their homegrown stars, but there is unlikely to be an IPL-style system in place where a handful of marquee talents are automatically tied to their local city.

And fans will be disappointed if they expect to see stars like Ricky Ponting and Shane Watson in the Big Bash League. There are no plans to introduce a window free of international cricket during which the tournament could be played, and next summer Australia are likely to be playing Test cricket during much of the time when the Twenty20 competition is run, in December and January.

"As we map out the Future Tours Programme ... it's pretty clear to me that there's unlikely to be really clear windows for Australian players to play the full period of the Big Bash League," Sutherland said. "There may be opportunities through the Big Bash League for them to play a week or two, or maybe the finals, but to my mind, looking at the schedule into the future, I think it's probably unlikely at this stage."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo