Today saw the culmination of the Big Bash League at the Manuka Oval in Canberra. The game came down to the final delivery, and in a pulsating finish, the Scorchers squeaked home thanks to a fumble from Moises Henriques.
The final over was full of drama, as Brett Lee, in his final professional game, produced two searing yorkers to bring the match down to the final ball.
The game was undoubtedly a T20 classic, and a great advert that showed the shortest format of the game can be just as absorbing as the longer forms.
But this final was not an example of why franchises work. The topic of franchises has been fiercely debated throughout the winter, as many in England have seen the success of the BBL and the strong attendances and TV viewing figures.
Without doubt, there are numerous points to be made on both sides of the argument. However, using today’s tense and dramatic final as a piece of evidence in favour of franchising the T20 Blast is simply wrong. Tight finishes can occur at any level in basically any tournament structure.
One of the main battle lines on the issue of franchising is whether having a city-based system would in fact raise the standard of cricket. Many have talked at length about how the standard of play is far superior in the BBL compared to the county-based T20 Blast.
This is clearly not true. If you are using competitiveness and close matches as a deciding factor in judging quality then the T20 Blast compares well against the BBL. Many of the BBL matches this year have been over as contests, well before the 10th over of the second innings. On numerous occasions the interrogations and shenanigans in the Channel 10 commentary box have been more entertaining than the cricket on display. The cricket became an inconsequential backdrop for Ponting’s grilling of Pietersen.
The T20 Blast certainly produces as many, if not more, tight finishes as the BBL has in the past four years; in this sense the BBL is not superior in quality.
Perhaps we should look at players who have plied their trade in both tournaments, this would surely give us a fair assessment of the quality at either end of the globe. Kevin Pietersen, one of the most vocal advocates of a franchise system in England, stumbled his way to 225 runs at an average of 22.5 in the 2014 T20 Blast against many ‘muppet’ bowlers. In the BBL this winter, he has amassed 293 runs at over 40, in what he calls a better tournament. Michael Carberry scored 424 runs at 32 in the Blast, compared to 226 runs at 44 in the BBL and Michael Lumb only made 128 runs at 18 in the Blast, while scoring 265 runs at 27 in the BBL.
All three of these international players have fared considerably better in the BBL than they did in last summer’s Blast. While I’m sure Pietersen would argue that playing regularly is a major reason for his greater success, a player of his calibre should be able to sore runs when required. Here’s a novel idea… maybe he could play some 4 day cricket as well, just to keep his eye-in for the T20. The quality, certainly of the bowling, is no better down under.
If we look at star overseas signings as a mark of quality, again the Blast does not stack up badly, especially considering that many bemoan the lack of consistency in the fixtures as to why the Blast is unable to attract big names. In 2014 many counties had blockbuster overseas – Ryder, Sammy, Klinger, Maxwell, Styris, Abbot, Levi, Nannes, Amla, Dilshan, Ajmal, Arafat and Finch to name just a few. One of the joys of having 18 counties is that, with 2 overseas permitted per team, the Blast can be blessed with over 30 overseas stars at any one time. The BBL has also attracted big names players such as Pietersen, Kallis and Pollard, but interestingly 8 of the registered 22 overseas players for BBL04 were English. The Blast can’t be all that bad!
Where the BBL has cashed in however, is there willingness to rope in ageing stars; Brad Hogg, Brett Lee and Andrew Flintoff have all been immensely popular for their respective sides.
The BBL undeniably has its major plus points. It is successfully marketed, shown on free-to-air TV, and perhaps most importantly, every game is televised. The fact that all games are televised cannot be overlooked; it gives the audience an easy way to follow the tournament and by having a game on every night, the league is able to settle into a good rhythm.
Maybe it is the fact that many of the T20 Blast’s closest games are not televised that means people perceive it to be lacking in quality. But make no mistake the T20 Blast, in terms of quality of cricket, is very much the equal of the BBL.