Australia news January 23, 2016

BBL hasn't divided Australia loyalties

John Hastings: 'I'd love to be playing for the Melbourne Stars, but any chance you get to represent your country is the pinnacle' © Getty Images

Australia's cricketers are adamant that international fixtures should retain primacy over the Big Bash League, despite a growing tide of questions about the availability of players for the knockout phase of the Twenty20 tournament in what has become its most successful season yet.

John Hastings, James Faulkner and the injured Glenn Maxwell are all unavailable for the Melbourne Stars ahead of Sunday's BBL final against the Sydney Thunder, who are in the fortunate position of not having any Australian players on ODI duty. There have been greater murmurings than ever before about the logic of quarantining national team players from the BBL, particularly for dead rubber ODI matches against India.

However Hastings, the Australian captain Steven Smith and the T20 international captain Aaron Finch have spoken strongly in favour of international cricket's undiminished standing as the pinnacle of their careers. Hastings even went as far as arguing that a blurring of the line between international duty and BBL commitments would set a dangerous precedent for the Australian game. Other international sides, not least West Indies, have been riven by this issue.

"I hope it doesn't get to that case because for me the pinnacle is representing your country," Hastings said of a scenario where BBL duty took precedence. "The Big Bash has been fantastic, it's growing from strength to strength and that's excellent for cricket in this country. But if we get to that stage we're going in the wrong direction.

"I'm not sure whether or not they can find a window to have that in the international summer. I'd love to be playing for the Melbourne Stars, but any chance you get to represent your country is the pinnacle. So for me it's very much focused on trying to get through this next game, have 5-0, then look ahead to the Twenty20 internationals."

While Hastings and Faulkner will carry on with national duty, the Australian selectors chose to rest Kane Richardson from the fifth ODI in Sydney with future international assignments in mind. Richardson's Adelaide Strikers had been knocked out in the semi-finals of the BBL, and it is clear that future T20 and ODI assignments against India, New Zealand and South Africa were the major factors in resting him.

Smith said that there was communication between BBL clubs and the national selectors about availability, and noted that some compromises had been made, like choosing Nathan Lyon for the latter part of the ODI series after he had played a few matches for the Sydney Sixers. But he also stated that there was no pressure on the selectors or the captain to concede ground to the BBL.

"As far as I'm concerned it's having the best team available to win the game for Australia, for me the BBL's irrelevant," Smith said. "I want my team to do what we can to win every series we play in. We have been pretty fair, we've released a couple of guys to play in the Big Bash when they haven't been playing.

"For me it's about making sure we've got the guys to do the job for Australia. [The BBL] is run beautifully. It's at a good time of the year for guys to play white-ball cricket. I'm happy with where everything's at."

Perhaps the greatest factor in allowing the currently balanced state of affairs to exist is how the BBL and its clubs remain under the ultimate control of Cricket Australia. While private ownership was touted at the start of the tournament six years ago, and has re-emerged as a thought bubble this summer, ownership of the BBL allows CA to work its levers effectively without having to deal with indignant private owners over international availability.

By extension, the game's administrators are also able to ensure that the BBL remains a competition designed to grow cricket's audience in Australia and to complement the international schedule, rather than cannibalising it. Having invested much in creating the competition, CA's decision makers are confident that they don't need to worry about making Australian players more available to the BBL, for it has proven that it can stand up without them.

"I think every player is on the same page, they'd love to be a part of the BBL finals," Finch said. "But at the same time I think no one would give up playing cricket for Australia for a second to play for a franchise-based side, so is there a better way they can work it out? I'm not sure what the answer is to that because I think the window is quite small to fit a BBL type setup in.

"When you're looking at getting the best international players in the world available for it as well, I think that's also a big contributor to the timing. And while it would be lovely to play in the finals - although Renegades weren't there - at the same time no one is going to miss playing for Australia."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

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