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Team comes first in BBL draft to highlight the competing forces

The challenges facing the competition were an undercurrent, but it made for a fascinating process

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Defending champions Perth Scorchers made a pass in the platinum round  •  Getty Images

Defending champions Perth Scorchers made a pass in the platinum round  •  Getty Images

The overriding view of the eight clubs after the BBL draft was that they got what they wanted. But did the BBL get what it wanted? That is less clear-cut.
Left on the sidelines from the platinum pool were 41,127 T20 runs between the five players not selected, and 1288 wickets from Andre Russell, Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard (with all due to respect to the 50 taken by Faf du Plessis and one by Jason Roy).
It was always likely that some of the platinum names would not be taken, but for it to be those five may have had a few of the executives both inside and outside Cricket Australia moving a little uneasily.
Availability was a watchword - the looming presence of the new South Africa and UAE leagues was an undercurrent - but it was not the only factor. Except for David Willey and Shadab Khan, the five platinum players not selected would have been available for largely the same period as those who did get picked. Meanwhile, Melbourne Renegades, for example, are willing to need replacements all three of draft signings.
It was a fascinating part of the whole event. The teams were there to build squads they believe can win the BBL. That is how coaches, list managers, and captains are judged. If it were only about getting those players perceived as the biggest crowd pullers, then it would be difficult to ever sack someone for losing.
While not directly linked to overseas players at the time, there was a telling comment when Brisbane Heat parted ways with Chris Lynn earlier this year. "This is a sign that Brisbane Heat are going more to winning than entertaining," Ian Healy, a Queensland Cricket director who was part of the decision, said. "That gives a lot of pleasure to fans. I don't think the winning part has come easily for us."
Significantly, too, the supporters of each club are only a fraction of the audience the BBL wants to attract. It's TV money and viewership that pays the bills and, in that area, the shift will certainly be towards names first, results second. Finding the right balance is the (multi) million-dollar question. Although, having watched a lot of sport during Covid with limited or no crowds, it was a reminder that the people in stadiums are vital to the TV product as well.
Russell was the name most commonly mentioned as each team's turn came up, followed closely by du Plessis who had been one of the earliest nominations in the draft when it was launched. There was a thought that Melbourne Stars might bring Russell back, but instead, they went for Trent Boult. Heat had been expected to show interest in du Plessis, but they went with Sam Billings.
It is also worth saying at this point, in case it gets lost with a focus on a few big names who did not get selected, that 24 very fine cricketers were signed up on Sunday evening. They can all be entertainers, some can build their names on a wider stage and a few new stories can start to be told.
There was plenty of logic in the decisions the teams made, even the platinum-round pass from Perth Scorchers which had been widely expected. The BBL will see Liam Livingstone, one of the finest T20 batters in the world, and Boult, one of the finest left-arm quicks ever, this coming season. Of course, Rashid Khan is back with Adelaide Strikers, if only for eight games.
It is hard to see the BBL moving out of its December-January window which covers the school holidays, so the issues that have become more significant this season aren't going away, but whether anyone steps back and assesses the 14-game competition that means the cricketing season is extended by almost two months is another question.
Not insignificantly, Willey, the one platinum player with full availability, turned down an offer from the South Africa league to commit to the full season in Australia because it is a better fit for his family situation. The BBL will hope that it is a view that can be shared.
Still, the tournament will need more money. Salary caps could reach AU$4million under the next MoU, up from the current AU$1.9million with top Australian players set for hefty increases. There is also a push, and not just from CA, to encourage the UAE league to shift its dates a little later into January.
Another broader question is whether it is time to throw the entire BBL open to a draft process (it made for engaging viewing) with some built-in loyalty programme along the line of the retention option. That may happen only if the league was ever to privatise, a model that has been brought back into the spotlight in recent weeks.
As far as this season goes, the draft brought immediate accountability to teams as decisions were made because it was clear who they did not pick. That will now extend through the tournament. How will the calls made on an August evening in Melbourne play out by the BBL final on February 4? For the teams themselves, holding the trophy aloft will be all that matters. As it should be. Whether that is enough for the league is another issue.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo