Australian cricket season

Repairing the Australian summer

How the Test team and Big Bash League can coexist.

Daniel Brettig

January 2, 2013

Comments: 38 | Text size: A | A

Usman Khawaja goes for a pull, Sydney Thunder v Melbourne Renegades, BBL 2012-13, Sydney, December 14, 2012
Batsmen have fought the competing technical and mental demands of jumping from format to format this season © Getty Images
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To ask Michael Clarke how the summer schedule might be better planned is to watch the competing forces of Australian cricket wrestle all at once within the national captain's mind. The first thing to notice is the slightly pained look that crosses his face, as he weighs up all the competing parts of Cricket Australia and the states he must satisfy as the face and voice of the national game.

When Clarke speaks, he admits an understandable bias towards the fortunes of the Test team, but is careful not to trample on the Twenty20 Big Bash League. Mainly he is limited to careful and qualified sentiments about how the three formats of the game can co-exist, that all are important, and that in his case he has made the personal choice to give up international T20 in order to grant himself some small amount of time at home.

All the while he suppresses the urge to say what most Test players, coaches and selectors have been muttering ever since the expansion of the BBL last summer ran headlong into the strident conclusions of the Argus review. That document stressed the importance of the national team to the health of the game in Australia, and urged that no compromises could be made in ensuring its success.

Promising as it sounded, Argus' findings have had to compete with CA's strategic plan, which features pillars including the need to "put fans first" via means like the BBL, while also demanding a national team that strives to be the world's top ranked in all forms. There had to be tension somewhere in this muddle of national team thinkers, marketeers, administrators, broadcasters, players and fans, and so it has proved.

The BBL's gaudiness has been made more maddening for the national set-up by occupying precious schedule time during which the Test team is also playing. Batsmen have fought the competing technical and mental demands of jumping from format to format, while bowlers have more or less given up on the possibility of doing so without a greatly heightened risk of injury. Meanwhile those working assiduously at growing the BBL have noticed that the inadvertent competition provided by concurrent Test matches has affected their attendances and broadcast numbers.

A saner summer

  • Tests
  • Five or six to be played through November and December, concluding with Melbourne's Boxing Day Test and New Year's match in Sydney
  • BBL
  • Runs from December 26 to January 25
  • Each team plays 7 games, plus two semis and final, for 31 matches in total
  • More double headers to allow matches to be played within shorter timeframe
  • ODIs/T20Is
  • First game to be played January 26 either ODI or T20
  • ODIs capped at three matches per series
  • T20Is capped at two games per series
  • Conclude in late February
  • Sheffield Shield/Ryobi Cup
  • To begin in September/October, seven Shield rounds by December 20
  • On hiatus until January 30, then played until late March/early April finish

Notions that Test match crowds had little interest in T20 and vice versa were too neat by half, and have resulted in a hodgepodge of a summer that is costing the game's blue-chip stock - the national team - at the same time the blue-sky speculation of the BBL is struggling to gain the desired foothold. Australian cricket is more or less at war with itself in a way not seen since the two summers of World Series Cricket. That state of competition did not last, and nor can this one. There has to be a better way.

Having looked closely at the rhythms of the summer, the peak times of the year for international matches and the habits of families, whose children are among the most desired audiences for the BBL, this correspondent has compiled a vision for a more sensible schedule, minimising the crossovers currently causing so much angst within Australian cricket. It is not a perfect solution, and will only be able to occur in the three summers out of every four that do not feature an India Test tour of Australia in December and January, but it is a start.

The central planks of the program should be the preservation of strong and reliable spots for Test matches, ODIs and T20Is, and the clearing of as much room as possible in school holiday time for the BBL. To that end, the five-day portion of summer should remain more or less where it has been this summer, beginning in November and on through December. The Boxing Day and New Year's Tests in Melbourne and Sydney are among the strongest embodiments of Test cricket in the world, and should stay that way. The Sheffield Shield that underpins the performance of Australia's Test side must be permitted its full 10 rounds and final, and by starting in late September or early October and running until around December 20, the competition may be allowed seven rounds before the onset of Christmas.

With the Test team reaching its final two Tests of the summer, Boxing Day is a reasonable start date for the BBL. There will be some competing elements as the tournament begins while the Tests go on, but a December 26 beginning will allow the tournament a chance to flourish into January, and wrap by the 25th of the month. This may be done by reducing the number of matches to the 31 played in 2011-12, all teams playing each other once.

Another way of tightening the event will be to schedule more frequent double-header match days, an option that would also work better to serving the audience CA needs to develop most from the BBL. While night fixtures are the more profitable television product, afternoon and twilight fixtures draw a greater number of children and families through the gates, allowing parents to get the family home at a more manageable hour. If this means sacrificing a little of the event's TV money, the likelihood of more children catching onto the game by being there is surely worth it.

The other major divergence this program takes from the current model is to hold off the start of ODIs and T20Is while the BBL continues. Instead of pulling on the green and gold of the national team's limited-overs strip, Australia's players would then be permitted a more meaningful - and promotion-friendly - stint in the T20 league than the one-match cameos of the first two seasons. But by tightening the BBL somewhat the ODI segment of summer would be permitted to re-start with a showpiece fixture on Australia Day, and allowed room to play on into mid to late February, depending on the touring team. It is broadly accepted that the segue from T20 to ODIs is far more manageable than that from T20s to Tests.

As an acknowledgement of T20's mounting popularity at the expense of ODIs, the 50-over series should be capped at three matches, or five if only one touring team is in Australia. T20Is should remain at two match series, in keeping with the widely held view that the game's shortest form is best served by club teams. These matches would take place after the Shield and domestic limited-overs competitions have begun again, providing a chance for players, selectors and coaches to recalibrate in the first-class game before the autumn and winter tours take place.

This alternative program is not particularly revolutionary, nor a violent departure from the numbers of matches and variation in fixtures currently in vogue. But it does neaten the season in a way that would reduce the sense that CA is fighting itself as much as other teams and other sports, something so evident in Clarke's furrowed brow when called to ponder how the summer might improve.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by   on (January 5, 2013, 16:26 GMT)

The only change I'd make to that would be to have a 10 game tri-series of ODI's (Play each other 3 times, and then 1 final) instead of separate series. 2 x 3 bi-lateral series is meaningless.

The only issue is ground availability. The AFL will have the rights over the MCG and Adelaide Oval from 2014 between late March-late September and neither realistically have suitable alternate venues under the CA criteria (need to upgrade Junction Oval in Melbourne). The SCG and The Gabba would also be under AFL contract, but there are alternate venues to play at in both states.

Posted by manikato1 on (January 5, 2013, 1:07 GMT)

OK, I think the schedule Daniel has tried is too short. I would run the Shield/ODI competition as one block during October/November. Reduce each team to 8 games (4 home 4 away) with the Final late November/ Early December. The BBL would be run for 3 weeks during February (as a State based Competition), with a finals day at one of the test grounds. This would lead to a 4 team international T20 tournament (3 double header days and a final day), with the BBL final venue missing out.

This leaves October/January free for international cricket. This would consist of 5 ODI's, an Australia A warm up, then 4 tests, Boxing Day & New Years as usual, then Adelaide over Australia Day, with one test in between (I would always go for Perth as they are the only one's who seem to support Test cricket, but it could be rotated with Brisbane and Hobart), or a test in December (no Australia A warm Up) and tour during January early Feb, with the T20's able to shift a week or 2.

Posted by glance_to_leg on (January 4, 2013, 15:22 GMT)

Pando ... How dare you knock the old boys? Hogg took wickets for WA (oops, Perth) and Dirk Nannes bowled his heart out today. I am rather enjoying: [i] supporting the team of the city where I was born; [ii] watching a nice variety of youth and ageing stars working together; [iii] feeling that all this doing no harm whatsoever to English cricket (I am a Pom), while quite possibly undermining Australia's performance in the next Ashes series. Joking aside, I think the suggestions in the article are excellent, and I utterly endorse your scepticism about the silly names given to the different teams. I do worry that the demands of T20 may inculcate bad habits in young players (eg Zampa looks a really good wrist spinner, but he needs to bowl longs spells not four overs, during which good balls may well be thrashed for six).

Posted by LillianThomson on (January 4, 2013, 10:02 GMT)

If Cricket Australia is serious about the national Test ranking, they should return to playing "winter" Tests in Cairns and Darwin against all opposition apart from England, South Africa and India.

Gate receipts would be terrible, but there would be some TV revenue. And, most importantly, they could increase up towards 8-9 home Tests per year, which would accelerate the Test development of the likes of Cowan, Warner, Hughes, Wade and the bowlers.

Posted by raghavan88 on (January 4, 2013, 9:46 GMT)

My Idea would be to play the Shield between Oct to early Jan as a single block,with the BBL being played from mid-Jan to mid- Feb,starting a few days after the New Year's Test and including 2 matches a day.The Shield Final will be hosted after the Big Bash.The Tests can be spread out with Brisbane hosting the opening game of the Summer in early Nov with Tests following in Perth and/or Hobart.Early Dec 3 odis and 2 t20's for the first team of the Summer,then the Boxing Day and New Year Tests at MCG and SCG.Following the Festival Tests 3 odis and 2 t20's for the 2nd team. The Australia Day Test at Adelaide will round off the Summer following which a few players can play in the 2nd half of the Big Bash before leaving for overseas tours in late Feb.

Posted by RogerWaite on (January 4, 2013, 7:24 GMT)

Great schedule Mr Brettig. You've come up with an ideal way to compress the time of the BBL with double headers (eg. an East Coast and a Perth game). I would like to see a series of 3 T20 internationals per series (perhaps inc. a double header). The Argus Report flagged the idea of the Sheffield Shield starting in August. This would be great and games could be played in country centres who would support it and would allow the SS Final to be played just before the Boxing Day Test. After the BBL you could then have the Ryobi Cup.

Posted by   on (January 4, 2013, 3:15 GMT)

Daniel, I've had similar thoughts but unfortunatley the FTP has Australia heading off to tour early to mid Feb every year until 2019. Provding any sort of meaningful BBL window is nigh on impossible if the FTP is stuck to.

Posted by pando on (January 3, 2013, 21:17 GMT)

Peter - couldnt agree more. The franchise system is a "who cares" competition - further, it alienates anyone outside of thier state's capital city. That is the first and most evident observation of the lack of crowds in NSW and VIC relative to recent seasons. Secondly for goodness sake for over 100 years Australia has identified each state by its tradional colours. It is now nigh on impossible without the aid of crickinfo to decipher who is playing who? If the colours arent confusing enough we go and complicate it further by coming up with inane names for these franchises "sixers" "thunder" "hurricane" please, the state is suffice in cricket..... And finally way way too many "veterans". If we cant come up with enough lcoal players then cut back the teams. with all due resoect to the Gibbs, Warne, Hodge, Young et al brigade, your day was yesterday and sadly for most of the old boys it shows in thier performance.

Posted by ygkd on (January 3, 2013, 19:48 GMT)

Let us consider, for a moment, the case of Glenn Maxwell. He was selected in the twelve for the Sydney Test, but was relegated to 12th man duties and was sent back to the BBL for a game with the Melbourne Stars.There, he batted for all of 9 frenetic balls and bowled none. How does this help his long-form development, given that he is in so obvious need of further development if CA wish to persist with him as a future part of their Test line-up? Alternatively, had he made a cameo thirty-odd and taken a gifted (by slogging) wicket, would that have constituted sufficient grounds for his further inclusion in 12-man Test squads? The place of the BBL in the overall scheme of cricket in Australia is still up for grabs. That is not to say that it will not last the decade out, rather that it is still in its infancy and therefore not yet able to deliver on its potential without parasitising the standing of other forms. The alternative schedule outlined above is well worth consideration.

Posted by Jayzuz on (January 3, 2013, 11:25 GMT)

Sadly, we'll probably have to ditch the 50 over game sooner rather than later. That will unclatter the summer considerably. There are just too many formats now. Having just T20 and long format will mean more specialisation with players. But many will be able to wear both hats, just as many could when there were just the two longer versions of the game.

Posted by zenboomerang on (January 3, 2013, 7:38 GMT)

@Daniel Brettig... hmmm... Pretty much exactly what I posted here a few weeks ago...

The only difference is that I said that SS starts in early Sept by playing in Darwin & Nth/Central Qld & get the 10 rounds out of the way by early Dec with the SS final played the week before Christmas... That way we know where all SS players are at & ready to be promoted to Test duties if required... This covered any problems with AFL as some posters seem concerned about... Also the nthn grounds would be much cheaper to use & would probably even get bigger crowds - a win/win for SS which runs at a loss...

Posted by Moppa on (January 3, 2013, 5:25 GMT)

@jackied and @Lawrie Colliver, the ground availability and Champions League problems exist with the current scheduling. The main changes Brettig proposes from what we have currently are: 1) Delay the start to the BBL by around a week and compress it slightly; 2) no ODIs during the "BBL window"; 3) less ODIs. The start and end date of the Shield and Ryobi Cup are essentially as it is today. Re ground availability, I'm sure the use of country or suburban venues could resolve any major issues, e.g. Blacktown, Junction Oval, Newcastle etc. @Christopher White, the 5 or 6 Tests in a 9 week window is also what we do today. Brettig is not proposing to reduce the intensity of player workloads, but just to reduce the chopping and changing between formats. @Meety - I agree with all your points.

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 4:06 GMT)

Very poor strategy! With little thought! You are suggesting playing 5 or 6 tests in a 9 week window! Given our problems with injuries that is a poor, very poor strategy!!!

The BBL is placed where it is obviously for commercial value, during the school holidays! Ultimately what needs to happen is to spread the test summer out! Star in Brisbane in early November, finish in Adelaide for an Aust day test or with a Hobart test in early Feb! Spread out the tests so there are bigger rests and more opportunity for players to go back to BBL, they can be encouraged to do so by reducing the number of one-day internationals.

Posted by duralsumo on (January 3, 2013, 3:52 GMT)

Brettig talks lots of commonsence. However to quote Gideon Haigh Cricket Australia now see's itself as a marketing organisation above being an administrator. BBL should have more double headers. If Fox Sports can share for than one EPL game the same can be done with BBL on its three channels or split on one channel and with Perth and Brisbane back to back or are they following the same path as C9 does with NRL Friday Night Football? I recognise the contribution that BBL makes to the big picture of cricket every summer however the last two summers the timing has been totally wrong and the importance of Test cricket and other domestic competitions has not been shown the respect they deserve. Come on Cricket Australia show commonsence and leave the administer the game and get the programing right!

Posted by Hoady on (January 3, 2013, 3:28 GMT)

Stuff it, i like the BBL. There, I've admitted it. I come home at night, wait for the kids to go to bed, and I can sit and watch the game I love, live on TV, guilt-free; seeing all the less-famous domestic players that I otherwise would have missed playing against some of the greats of the game. The test players are out of the tournement, which is good for everyone, so I'm not sure why they should even worry about it. My vote.. Let it Ride as it is.

Posted by RogerWaite on (January 3, 2013, 3:17 GMT)

I really like this schedule which is a big improvement on the current schedule. The suggested BBL format with a Boxing Day start is spot on allowing Shield games to be played up till Christmas in case the test team is looking to call up players. Yes, reduce the ODI's to 3 per series and increase the T20 Internationals to the same with Sunday T20 double-headers. Start the Sheffield Shield in August and play final just before Christmas and play the Ryobi Cup straight after the BBL.

Posted by Harvey on (January 3, 2013, 2:39 GMT)

@GerardB - I think your suggestion makes the most sense. The expanded BBL is mirroring the experience of what happened to T20 in England. In England we had a successful T20 competition. The ECB got greedy and over-expanded it. Attendances dropped, and especially at the larger grounds - once they fell below a critical level - they crashed disastrously. For years the ECB were in denial about the reasons, but last year they finally launched a proper survey of fans, which got 25,000 responses. As a result, from 2014, T20 will be spread out over the season. No more marginalisation of first class cricket! This can be done because wisely the ECB didn't go down the franchise route. The new competition format should increase attendances, encourage county membership, and allow counties to promote the other formats among the younger generation who may be initially attracted only to T20. Whether CA can do something similar will depend on how easy it is for them to ditch the franchise system.

Posted by Chesty-la-roux on (January 3, 2013, 1:53 GMT)

Play the BBL in the winter and leave the summer as it always has been for test matches, shield cricket, and an ODI tri series. That way everyone wins, players get a bit of a hit in the winter, and fans get something to watch during the long winter months instead of the drudgery of AFL and rugby league. There is plenty of time in the year why are we trying to squeeze everything into half the year its not like in England where there is only half a dozen or so dry days in the year to play.

Posted by EdwardTLogan on (January 3, 2013, 1:03 GMT)

It would be preferable to get the T20 nonsense out of the way as soon as possible. Start it in the first week of October and wrap it up by early November. The Sheffield Shield can start mid-November, with the 1st test commencing on the last weekend in November. The 2nd and 3rd Tests can be played before Christmas, leaving the Boxing Day and New Year's Tests as they are. If a 6th Test is necessary, it can be played in mid-January. While the Tests are being played, the Sheffield Shield could continue, as it could during the ensuing ODI series, which could start in late January and be wrapped up by late February (even alllowing for a tri-lateral series). The other thing that needs to be address is the New Year's Test being moved back to a start date of 2 January. Why there is such a ridiculous rule in place preventing it is beyond me - 2 days break between Tests, especially when the cities are only an hour's flight away, is a joke.

Posted by Meety on (January 3, 2013, 0:43 GMT)

@Cossie88 on (January 02 2013, 10:03 AM GMT) - modern tours usually have different squads, & given players regularly take leave when on tour, the gap (3 wks) mey not be such a hurdle. There is also the opportunity for good touring players to plasy the BBL. == == == This schedule is way better than what we currently have. It was bad enuff that the BBL started so early in 2011, in spite of the Argus Report, to have started earlier this year is pretty dumb. == == == As has been mentioned the Champ League is an issue, although this was more of a pronlem this year due to the 20/20 W/Cup delaying the League.

Posted by Pete_AU on (January 2, 2013, 23:43 GMT)

It was touched on in the article but I would like to see International T20s abolished. The game is best suited to the hype and glam of the franchised domestic tournaments and Champions League. Leave it that way and give a little more primacy to 50 over cricket, or let 50 over cricket die.

I'm glad that most cricket followers and serious cricketers appear to hold to the ideal that Test cricket is the ultimate form of the game.

Posted by Rowayton on (January 2, 2013, 23:31 GMT)

This would probably work although I repeat my objection that I voiced elsewhere yesterday. After 50 years of playing and watching cricket in Australia it is my view that Australian pitches are at their best in mid summer i.e mid December to early February and yet there would be virtually no day games played in that time. Why not?

Posted by EnglishCricket on (January 2, 2013, 23:04 GMT)

BBL is overrated some good matches but league itself is lacking a good size crowd makes it a bit dull to watch. Also I didn't know their wickets flash red pretty cool.

Posted by gibboj on (January 2, 2013, 22:42 GMT)

The BBL should be combined with the Ryobi ODC and the Shield having a winning team over all three formats (and a seperate winner of the Shield). this will get all the T20 only fans to pay attention to the other forms of the game

Posted by meursault on (January 2, 2013, 13:32 GMT)

Some great ideas in there, well done. This could at least be done where the touring team playing the Test matches is not scheduled to play the one-dayers or where they don't mind a 2-3 week break (Sri Lanka could certainly do with one right now!)

Posted by   on (January 2, 2013, 13:29 GMT)

Create a window basically for BBL. No brainer but is anyone listening !!!

Posted by wix99 on (January 2, 2013, 11:16 GMT)

I hope Cricket Australia is reading this!

Posted by _Pog_ on (January 2, 2013, 11:15 GMT)

A no brainer really. Hopefully the only thing stopping CA from adopting a similar schedule is their current broadcasting deals.

Posted by GerardB on (January 2, 2013, 10:50 GMT)

They could start by bringing back the state based t20 league with each state playing each other home and away. As the teams won't change between formats you can play BBL matches throughout the entire Aus summer with a block in the school holidays.

Posted by venkatesh018 on (January 2, 2013, 10:45 GMT)

Not a bad try, Daniel. This schedule is worth considering.

Posted by greatshinwari on (January 2, 2013, 10:44 GMT)

poor idea.......... from CA

Posted by Cossie88 on (January 2, 2013, 10:03 GMT)

A fairly big problem would be the almost 3-week gap the visiting team has between the end of the SCG Test and the first ODI. You can fit a touring game or two in here, but it's still a massive gap that won't sit well with most nations.

Posted by Steggz on (January 2, 2013, 9:28 GMT)

The only problem with this I can see is the clash with AFL teams wanting to use every state ground (possibly with the exception of the WACA) when the Shield would be wrapping up.

Comments have now been closed for this article

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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