July 6, 2011

The skewed realities of the Big Bash League

Test aspirants have been left facing pay cuts, while those with prodigious Twenty20 skills look forward to getting big money for little work

The Big Bash League (BBL) is now a dramatic reality for domestic cricketers in Australia. With it has come the largest shift in the direction and landscape of the game in this country in more than 30 years, easily eclipsing the move to full-time professionalism at the domestic level in the late 1990s.

Much excellent journalism has already been devoted to how this city-based Twenty20 revolution will affect the direction of the game and the dangerous incentives it is creating for future generations of Australian cricketers. What can be explored are the implications the new competition will have on the ground - for the players affected by Cricket Australia's decisions, made in concert with the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA).

As the proletariat, who are we to tell the bourgeoisie how to run the game? We largely do as we are told, with the faith that the administrators are doing what is best for the game now, and for future generations.

While the incentives may have become a little skewed, the average three-format domestic cricketer will certainly be in a better financial position this time next year. The total player payment pool has increased, although the allocation of resources has significantly changed, and Cricket Australia and the ACA need to be commended for this. But while in theory there's little to quibble with about the change in the payment structure, in reality the mismatch between ability and pay will have some squirming in discomfort.

Consider the plight of someone like Chris Rogers - an old fashioned four-day craftsman, and the kind of player every coach dreams of having in his line-up: consistent, professional, in touch and at ease with his game. He has perhaps been the most consistent cricketer on the domestic scene for the four years before his injury last season. You would assume that with T20 falling off Victoria's contractual obligations, his ranking would increase within their playing group, and that he would receive remuneration accordingly. Sadly, for players of his kind, whose focus is primarily on first-class cricket, they will end up taking hefty pay cuts. While for others this is sweetened by the possibility of a T20 contract, it's unlikely to happen to those we should be rewarding for their single-minded focus towards Test selection.

It's those on the periphery of four-day cricket, but who have immense short-format skills, who will be the true winners of the new system. The likes of Travis Birt will be highly sought after by the Big Bash franchises, and could earn twice as much in the coming year by playing no more than 15 days of cricket. There will be a number of younger contracted players who will put an inordinate amount of effort into improving their T20 skills to maximise their income. It is hard to blame them.

If you want to apportion blame, aim it at the system. The players will no doubt say they dream of the baggy green, but with only 15 or so meaningful longer-format places to be had, there is little incentive to do so. Less effort for more money. Where do you sign?

If you want to apportion blame, aim it at the system. The players will no doubt say they dream of the baggy green, but with only 15 or so meaningful longer-format places to be had, there is little incentive to do so. Less effort for more money. Where do you sign?

Paul Marsh, the ACA chief executive, said it beautifully recently when he suggested the state associations were to blame for creating this skewed market. The same state coach who was bemoaning the new contractual process employed Chris Gayle for 15 hours' work for more than US$260,000.

Cricket Australia should be recognised for their courage in executing an exciting vision for the game. In doing so, they are creating a new revenue stream which one hopes will one day pour back into grassroots cricket and sustain the production of Test cricketers. Sadly, however, they are making it nigh impossible for the current crop of Test cricket aspirants to make a fair fist of their opportunities if they arise. With the last Test of the summer scheduled around Australia Day in late January, a situation may arise where a debutant or up-and-comer plays the biggest game of his life on the back of six weeks of crash-and-bash white-ball cricket.

From personal experience, this is easier said than done. One minute you are clearing your front leg and premeditating where you are going to try to heave it with carefree abandon; the next, forcing yourself to be selective and play the ball under your nose - skills at opposite ends of the spectrum. What hope would you have batting for time on an Adelaide turner with Harbhajan Singh fizzing them down at you if you had spent the last 60 days executing your laps and slogs? Even the greatest mental discipline will leave you short of preparation for such a battle.

From a bowling point of view, the maximum number of overs one can deliver in the T20 competition is 28 - about the equivalent of a day's work if you were to play a Test in Adelaide. We saw what happened to Doug Bollinger's Indian Test tour and home summer, after he conditioned himself with four-over stints for the Chennai Super Kings in the Champions League. Success in Test cricket is not a hit-and-hope affair, and for it to happen for some later this summer, luck might have to be their biggest ally.

One big foreseeable advantage of the BBL is that it will grant opportunities to players who would otherwise not be so fortunate. If not for last year's Big Bash, the rapidly improving impressive finger spinner Nathan Lyon would probably have been confined to the groundsman's shed at the Adelaide Oval. He is now a bolter to tour Sri Lanka in just over a month. Arguments can be made on either side of the BBL fence - expansion and new audiences against returning Australia to the top of the Test cricket tree. Sadly, these are not congruent ideals, and only time will tell which wins out.

Ed Cowan is a top-order batsman with Tasmania

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Philip on July 9, 2011, 23:23 GMT

    I have just read the article - "Falling Between the Silos" by Greg Baum in The Age (Melbourne). It is well worth looking at.

  • Aditya on July 9, 2011, 8:43 GMT

    I agree entirely, that Test Cricket is more difficult than T-20 Cricket. But, by the logic of the writer, bread and water, essential for human beings, must cost more than the fare delivered by a five star French chef, which one can live without. Indeed, I have. On a more sane note, T-20 Cricket generates more revenue to the ACB, than does First Class Cricket, or Test Cricket. What the BCCI and the ACB want to do with the extra money, one can only wonder. I don't think that they will be able to find ways and means to expend the income generated by T-20 Cricket. And, how many rainy days do the two Cricket boards provide for? In my opinion, the world moves on business principles, and those who make the most amount of money(useless to themselves) are deemed to be the most successful. On this analysis, those who enjoy the trappings of financial power, lead the most futile lives(I refer to the BCCI, and the ACB).

  • Scott on July 9, 2011, 4:56 GMT

    Following on from this, to say state associations are to blame is not fair. Why? Participation numbers are dropping. Kids have many, many other options of sport within schools these days. Back 20 years ago if you went into a school to promote cricket, you were perhaps one of 2-3 sports that school would sample. Now your one of 25+ each year. How do you promote, to kids, that standing in the field all day or trying to survive all day is fun when they want to be involved and in the action 24/7?

    Cricket is a game and only that. However, throughout life and indeed sporting history those who have adapted have survived. Sure, T20 and the focus on it has caused players like Ed to perceive they need to change their game dramatically to play the format. What is technique? Is it the ability to not get out or the ability to score? Likewise with bowling, the best T20 bowlers also succeed in Tests. Why? They try to take wickets.

    T20 will not kill cricket. Failing to change and adapt will.

  • Scott on July 9, 2011, 4:48 GMT

    Firstly, a great article (fairly obvious). However, I struggle to agree with several points throughout. Firstly, our Test team is struggling now - I'm not sure this is related to the advent of T20 in Australia.

    The argument that "it's hard to adjust from playing lapshots and clearing the front leg" is skewed. There are numerous examples of players who have a solid technique who have survived in all 3 forms of the game.

    Chris Rogers, whilst taking nothing away from his ability, is one dimensional. A great player in the longer form only. To say that these players are disadvantaged is generational only as coaching has evolved from survival to scoring. After all, isn't the aim of the game to make runs and take wickets? I struggle to see exactly what the problem is rewarding players who can do this is. In tennis if your brilliant on clay yet struggle on hard courts, you aren't compensated... Why should cricketers be any different?

  • Philip on July 7, 2011, 7:46 GMT

    I think Meety's right about longer-form opportunities being missing. It's all very well saying that good players will play any form well, but if you never get to play long-form at age level how do you show you're up for it? Enough cameos may get you picked but what does that prove? And what does that teach you in the long run? How to add more cameos?

  • Andrew on July 7, 2011, 1:05 GMT

    @Behind_the_bowlers_arm - totally get your point although I think that all young boys interested in cricket dream of "... batting all day for 150no..." Its just the opportunities that are missing. Clearly Cric Oz should of negotiated with the States to ENSURE that NO PLAYER is worse off under the new rosters. A player like Rogers - who is not a priority T20 signing, should not have his Victoria contract altered for anything other then poor form. In the real world if you get a 2nd job, your main employer CANNOT legally say "Oh well great you've got a 2nd job, now you won't mind receiveing a pay decrease, you'll still be better off!"

  • Fazal on July 7, 2011, 0:32 GMT

    Ed Cowan understands what he is talking about as a player & it is very clear how disappointed & frustrated cricketers aspiring to don the baggy green cap would be now that their future looks very bleak indeed. At a time when test cricket in this country is in the doldrums CA thinks T20 is the way to go. Surely you don't have to be a rocket scientist to realize the damage it can cause to test cricket by weaning away our cricketers to T20 cricket in a big by offering them more money. No doubt CA has totally got their priorities wrong. In fact it should be the other way round where encouragement & incentives to play the longer forms of the game should have taken precedence over T20 cricket considering our current plight. It may be easy to make a fast buck by promoting this garbage called " Big Bash League" but woudn't be that easy to repair the damage it can cause to test cricket in this country for years to come. Surely commonsense should have prevailed.

  • Terry on July 6, 2011, 11:38 GMT

    Good to see a player have the courage to put his head above the parapet and speak out about the effect on the future of Australian Test cricket. The sad thing is that his comments just confirm what should be obvious to anyone at Cricket Australia who sees their role as attempting to make Aust number 1 in Test cricket that they are going in the wrong direction ....... am i making a MAJOR assumption that anyone senior who sees that goal as what they should be striving for exists? It seems like it at the moment. Have mentioned on another thread that 50% (an arbitrary percentage) of the additional player money generated by BBL should have gone into the pool dedicated to long form cricket at a State level. His example of someone like Chris Rogers is a good one. What encouragement is there for a 18yo contemplating a career as a solid reliable Test opener? We need a boy who dreams of batting all day for 150no.... like a young Simon Katich maybe.

  • Dummy4 on July 6, 2011, 10:58 GMT

    Ed Cowan's premise is that young cricketers can succeed in T20 cricket without bothering to acquire the skills and expertise for the longer version of the game. While I admit that this may hold true for a season or two, the pretenders will soon be found out by their opponents and their limitations exposed. What I do have a problem with in the T20 game is the predilection towards flat pitches and shorter boundaries, which combine to breed flat-track bullies. If CA can ensure that pitches are much more sporting, there is more than a possibility that Test cricketers or aspiring longer version players can make a fist of it in the shortest format of the game. After all, if you're classy enough, you can adapt to any level.

  • VENKATACHALAM on July 6, 2011, 9:48 GMT

    Well written article, Ed Cowan. What you have said will apply to cricket boards and players in every country, especially India. This is the only game in the world, if it is headed in the current direction, will end up where skill level and salary packets are inversely proportional. Pity, such a forward looking organisation like ACB has succumbed to this temptation and the Australian players association have consented to this knowing fully well, what damage it will do the standard of the four day game. India will rule the cricketing world for the near future, not because it has the strongest domestic structure in the world, but because the first class cricket structure of every country would have been decimated by this preeminence of T20 leagues. Australian cricket is headed towards the gutter.

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