Shane Watson, the Australian Cricketers' Association president, has argued the broadcaster Seven has "no legs to stand on" in its dispute with Cricket Australia after the decision to add a third overseas player to Big Bash League lists added greatly to the talent set to be on show in the 10th edition of the tournament.
CA and Seven are in dispute over the broadcaster's contracted AUD 450 million portion of an AUD 1.2 billion deal signed alongside Foxtel in 2018, with the matter currently before the Australian Chamber for International and Commercial Arbitration. ACICA is understood to be compiling its own list of potential experts to assess rights value after CA and Seven both baulked at one another's choices of possible arbiters.
Among a raft of arguments raised as it tries to reduce the rights fee as part of spiralling debts, Seven's chief executive James Warburton and multibillionaire chairman Kerry Stokes have claimed that the network has not received value for the BBL in particular, as audiences continued to trend down over the past two years. Watson, who stated in a blog post on Tuesday that he had been initially concerned by Seven's arguments, went on to say that the introduction of a third overseas player to BBL teams had reasserted his view that the tournament was second only to the IPL.
Overseas players signed for the 10th edition of the BBL include Rashid Khan, Jason Roy, Nicholas Pooran, Sam Billings, Jonny Bairstow, Carlos Brathwaite, Tom Banton, Dan Lawrence, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir, Rilee Rossouw, Dawid Malan, Alex Hales and Tom Curran.
"The reason why the BBL was such a global hit was because of the amazing quality of cricket that was played even without a number of our Aussie stars being available for a lot, if not all of the tournament," Watson wrote on his website, T20 Stars. "In my mind, this is the sole reason why the IPL is the best T20 tournament in the world because all of the best cricketers in the world being available to play interwoven with so many Indian stars and the young Indian superstars of the future.
"As we saw during the IPL that has just finished, the reason why this IPL was another runaway success even in this current global environment, was the quality of the cricket. The teams were so evenly matched which meant that you never knew who was going to win the match as well as the standard of cricket being so high. So with all of this in mind, the BBL making the great decision to allow three overseas players per team to play in every game interwoven with the quality domestic T20 players we have, wow, what a product it would be.
"So Channel 7, you have no legs to stand on because in my view, after being around just about all of the best domestic T20 competitions in the world, this was going to be one of the best BBLs in its history, even in the bio-security bubbles that will be mandatory for everyone's safety."
Watson's words about the broadcast dispute were part of a wider discussion of the BBL's new rules released on Monday, which include the allowance for substitutes, changes to the powerplay, and the allocation of a bonus point after 10 overs of the chase. These changes were the product of discussions between CA and the broadcasters, which have been looking for numerous ways to "spice up" the competition in order to improve ratings.
"I read today that the BBL is introducing these new gimmicks, such as the 'Power Surge', the 'X Factor Player' and the 'Bash Boost' in a misguided attempt to re-invigorate the tournament. I just can't seem to get my head around why there are people out there who are trying to re-invent the wheel when the wheel was not broken," Watson wrote. "It just had hit a little rocky ground, in which some really simple measures that were already put in place, would create a slipstream back to the very top again.
"The complexities that these new 'Science Experiments' are going to create for the viewers, let alone the players and coaches, when none of these have been tried and tested at lower levels, have really taken the wind out of my sails. I truly hope that my concerns with these new gimmicks prove me totally wrong and that all of the things that have come together over the last 6 months, will be a perfect storm to create the most engaging and exciting BBL in its history.
"The simple game plan in my mind is to get the world's best cricketers playing on world class pitches and guess what, you will get world class cricket to watch for the cricket lovers out there and we will all be on the edge of our seats admiring the feats of these amazing cricketers. There is a saying that I do say a lot and it couldn't be truer than right now, 'The simple things in life are often the best'."
The major concern Watson had about the BBL earlier this year - its drastically increased number of games since 2018 - remains unchanged, despite his suggestion that it go back to 10 games per side rather than the current level of 14.
"The last two years had seen things starting to wane quite a bit with the big contributing factor being the increased length of the tournament, due to the new broadcast deal that was put in place," Watson wrote. "So when Channel 7 publicised their grievances mid-year, as a 'Hail Mary' to try to reduce their financial exposure to cricket, which they seemed to pay overs for at that time especially knowing Channel Nine's previous financial experiences, I was a little nervous that what Seven where saying around the quality of the BBL product not being what they were expecting, that this argument might have some legs."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig