Scheduling and format complexities make it next to impossible for Cricket Australia to impose a set policy for player availability for the Big Bash League, the tournament's chief Kim McConnie has admitted. McConnie's comments came after Travis Head, D'Arcy Short and Alex Carey were released to take part in Sunday's competition decider in Adelaide, the day after Australia's opening Twenty20 triangular series match in Sydney against New Zealand.
Numerous queries have been raised about how Head in particular could have been freed to play in Friday night's semi-final for the Strikers, where he played a pivotal role in their one-run victory over Melbourne Renegades, when numerous others in similar circumstances have not been, whether Cameron White for the Renegades during the ODI series or Andrew Tye and Ashton Agar for Perth Scorchers and Short for the Hobart Hurricanes ahead of the first semi-final in Perth.
These discrepancies have meant the national selectors have had a huge influence over the course of the tournament's pointy end, and the Strikers assistant coach Greg Blewett told Triple M Radio on Saturday that the decision appeared to him to be a response to criticism. "There has been a bit of backlash going the last week or so, and rightfully so," he said. "It has been a bit of a stuff-up...I think they're doing the right thing,"
McConnie said the release of Head, Carey and Short for the tournament final was an example of the sort of flexibility that would need to remain in future, rather than CA imposing a single policy for player availability that all clubs could then work around. "It's tough to have a set policy when you think about it, scheduling is a challenge, one of the toughest things we do," McConnie told ESPNcricinfo.
"I think the selectors have done a really good job, the way they've been able to try to balance the BBL final, which is fans first and give fans what they want, plus also the international commitments for the players. I think it's tough to have a single policy we set at the beginning of the season and that's it, I think what's been good is the selectors have flexed and taken each moment into consideration."
White, who captained the Renegades to their loss against the Strikers on Friday night, said he remained none the wiser as to why he had not been released to play for his BBL team when a non-playing member of Australia's ODI squad last month, but agreed it would be difficult to impose a blanket judgment amid the mess of fixtures. He also stressed that Australian cricket needed to maintain a hierarchy where national team representation sat above the BBL.
"I'm not sure there were different circumstances around that, maybe in my situation they didn't know what the team was going to be before they released it, I don't know what the policy is or if there is one," White said. "I don't think there needs to be a policy or anything like that, if the Australian selectors release a player to go and play well they're just taking every situation as they go.
"I think everyone in the camp would love the Australian players playing, but it's not that simple, a lot would have to give for that to happen. When do you play the Test matches, do you still play ODIs, do you play any international T20 games. I don't know what the answer is. All I know is, no doubt the fans would want to see that, but from a player's point of view, for the health of the competition, a player's main priority has got to be that he wants to play for Australia No. 1."
Hurricanes captain George Bailey, who will welcome Short back to the top of the order but is yet to decide whether he will be accompanied by Tim Paine or Matthew Wade, was grateful for the compromise. "You just want your best players playing, so it's great for both teams and great for the tournament in general," he said. "As fans and as players if we're going to be winning a tournament we want to be winning against the absolute best and you want to be playing in the best possible team, so it's a great compromise."
The most curious role on Saturday's final eve was played by Colin Ingram, posing with the trophy as captain of the Strikers while Head flew back to Sydney, before he returns on match day to lead them. Ingram had played a similar role ahead of the semi-final a few hours before it emerged that Head would be available. "It'd be nice if Travis could pitch up for some interviews every now and again," Ingram quipped. "He's led really well and it's been great working with him and looking forward to having him."