Another small building block was put tentatively in place as part of cricket's comeback from Covid-19, with the announcement of the WBBL and BBL fixtures for the 2020-21 season. Things could yet change, and plenty remains to be confirmed, but there is at least the promise of a full Australian season. Here are six talking points from yesterday's fixtures.
Longer BBL, more primetime
This will be the longest BBL in terms of days, with it stretching over more than two months from the start on December 3 to the final on February 6. While it could help give the tournament wriggle room if Covid-19 forces changes, it will ensure the debate about how the tournament has evolved during the full home-and-away format continues - and it will be interesting to see how long this current structure remains - but one off-shoot from it is fewer double-header days and more games in the evening. The Adelaide Strikers have done especially well out of this, with all their home matches in primetime. While the organisers hope to have crowds in some capacity, the TV experience this season could be even more important.
WBBL's Sydney hub
Playing a group of matches at one venue is not new for the WBBL, but the upcoming sixth season of the tournament will go to a new level with the competition based in Sydney for three weeks. Given the WBBL is only three months away, which is not a lot of time in the current climate, it has been done partly to try and ensure any disruption to the event would be minimised. Alistair Dobson, the head of the Big Bash League, also acknowledged it aided in increasing the number of games that could be broadcast on TV - up from 23 to 26 overall. The knock-on impact is a small amount of home matches for the majority of teams, including the defending champions Brisbane Heat, who only have two regular-season games on their own turf at the Allan Border Field.
Christmas Day remains off
There has been talk over the last few years of filling one of the few cricket-less days with a match, but for now Christmas Day will remain for unwrapping presents, eating and drinking (although not too much of the latter two for those in elite sport). However, the Adelaide Strikers they could find themselves on a plane to Perth ahead of their Boxing Day match against the Scorchers. Other fixtures which have become traditional - Christmas Eve afternoon in Hobart and New Year's Eve in Adelaide - remain on the schedule. The regular season will come to a conclusion on Australia Day and the five-match finals series is retained, which means a double chance for the top two teams to reach the final. The dates for the playoff matches have yet to be confirmed.
Innovations to come
There are more announcements to come about the in-game tweaks that are going to be implemented to try and increase interest in the BBL. They are likely to include a split powerplay, bonus points, the possibility of in-play substitutes, and perhaps even free hits for wides. The latter could be the most controversial, especially among the bowlers. "I'm obviously not that keen on [free hits for wides] because we get that wrong occasionally, so I don't think we should be punished that harsh," Kane Richardson said last month. "It's a good conversation to have to make the BBL the best product we can, so I'll be keen to see what they can come up with so long as it's not something that's just punishing the bowlers."
This has the potential to be a tricky area for both competitions this season given the ongoing impact of Covid-19 on global travel. While elite sport is likely to be able to get some exemptions, there could still be the challenges of dealing with quarantine periods and if a player is called up at a relatively short notice. However, given that the global cricket calendar may not be back in full swing by the latter stages of the year it potentially opens the door for a wider pool of players to be considered depending on the restrictions in place. There is likely to be a flurry of activity in the WBBL very soon as the contract embargo is lifted with plenty of spots to fill among the teams.
Very little window for multi-format players
Another regular debate around the BBL has been how to give some of Australia's biggest names more of a chance to feature. Steven Smith and Josh Hazlewood slotted in for the Sixers last year, but Pat Cummins didn't appear for the Sydney Thunder while David Warner and Mitchell Starc have not been sighted in the tournament since 2013 and 2014 respectively. It will be squeeze for them to get any matches in this year: Australia's Test matches against India finish on January 7 and are due to be followed by one-day series against India (January 12-17) and New Zealand (January 26-31) during the rest of the month.