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Missing Christmas made up Ben Dunk's mind over leaving Melbourne Stars

Dunk has not ruled out returning to the BBL but may prioritise overseas competitions to fit around family life

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Ben Dunk struggled for runs at the Stars, Melbourne Stars v Melbourne Renegades, Big Bash, MCG, January 4, 2020

Ben Dunk struggled for runs at the Stars  •  Getty Images

Ben Dunk has pinpointed Christmas Day as the moment when he realised that he wanted to terminate his contract with Melbourne Stars after three-and-a-half seasons at the club.
Dunk signed a five-year deal with the Stars ahead of the 2017-18 Big Bash having led the tournament's run charts the previous season, but performed a long way below expectations during his time at the club. In 39 innings for the Stars across four seasons, he made 621 runs at an average of 16.34 and a strike rate of 115.34, regularly moving up and down the order as they desperately tried to help him replicate the form he had shown in the Pakistan Super League and the Mzansi Super League.
This season, he made 69 runs in six matches - including two as an X-factor sub - and after spending Christmas away from his family in the tournament's hub on the Gold Coast, Dunk and the Stars came to a mutual agreement to terminate his contract midway through the season.
The termination allowed him to fly to the UAE to take up his contract with the Qalandars in the Abu Dhabi T10 League. He finished his quarantine period at the start of the week, and trained with his new team-mates for the first time on Tuesday night ahead of their first fixture on Friday.
At a media briefing which coincided with the Stars' elimination from the competition - he had listened to the first innings on the radio after struggling to find TV coverage - Dunk admitted that he had struggled to come to terms with his lack of role security at the club.
"My position at the Stars was not secured in the team," he said. "With the rule changes, I'd been the X-factor player quite a bit - so I was playing some games, some not, keeping wicket in some games, some not. As players, we live for gamedays, and time away from home when you're not playing was proving difficult.
"I've got two young children at home, so Christmas time is really important to me. It really hit home this year when I was in the hub on the Gold Coast and my family were back in Hobart on Christmas Day. I've got a little boy who turns four in February and understands what Christmas is and gets really excited. That made the decision a little bit easier, in terms of trying to free up time to be with family."
And while Dunk insisted that he had no plans to retire from the BBL, he conceded that the uncertainty over the cricket calendar on account of the pandemic and his reluctance to miss another family Christmas meant that he may not make himself available for the full season if approached by a team. At 33, Dunk remains a popular pick in several leagues around the world, and he hinted that he would consider prioritising other tournaments over the BBL.
"The pandemic has thrown the cricket calendar into absolute chaos," Dunk said. "When you include the two weeks of hotel quarantine when I get back to Australia, it's just another bit of murkiness in the water. I certainly want to explore my playing options, especially around the world.
"The Big Bash obviously has that window all the way through to mid-February, which is a long time in a cricket season. Who knows what will be going on, especially with the pandemic? With the Big Bash, [we don't know] whether that's going to stay in that slot for the same period of time, whether the South African comp [Mzansi Super League] gets back up and running, Bangladesh, the T10 - there's a lot of cricket to be played.
"From my own, selfish point of view, it's nice to be free around that sort of time. But I'm certainly not retiring from the Big Bash - there might be an opportunity there to play next year in a limited capacity, depending on what else is going on around the world."
More immediately, Dunk expressed his excitement about the opportunity to play with both Tom Banton and Rashid Khan in the T10 League and the upcoming PSL respectively. He will play for the Qalandars franchise in both competitions, under their Lahore guise in the PSL.
"I've come across [Banton] a couple of times at the Big Bash and the PSL but we've never been in the same team, so I'm excited to see him up close and see how he works. He's an exciting player who I think we'll watch for a long period of time.
"In the PSL, we went on a great journey last year, all the way through to the final where we were beaten on the day by a better team in Karachi. I'm really excited to play with Rashid Khan - he'll be a great addition to our squad and hopefully we can go one better."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98