SYDNEY: Australia’s Twenty20 Big Bash League has finally hit the big time, with enormous crowds, quality cricket and a dash of controversy putting it firmly in the public eye — in what could be a threat to the traditional Test format.
Midway through the fifth season of the five-week domestic tournament, interest has never been greater, with a whopping 80,883 people packing the Melbourne Cricket Ground for a recent clash between the Renegades and the Stars.
A Sydney derby this weekend between the Thunder and the Sixers is also expected to be a heaving 42,000 sell-out.
This contrasts sharply with waning interest in Test cricket, as seen in Australia’s recent series against the West Indies. Even the flagship first day of the Boxing Day Test, also at the cavernous Melbourne Cricket Ground, could only attract some 53,000.
“When you get 80,000 at the Big Bash at the MCG and it’s more than you’ve had on day one at the Boxing Day Test, you can see people saying, well, which way is this going? Are the scales tipping?” Cricket Australia boss James Sutherland told reporters.
According to Sutherland, it will be a different scenario when stronger Test teams are in town.
“In two years’ time when the next Ashes series (against England) comes around, people will understand the Big Bash is complementing and living in a symbiotic relationship with international cricket,” he said.
Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations chief Tony Irish is less sure, fearing Test cricket could slowly die unless action is taken as more stars opt for the lucrative, shorter format.
Already several high-profile players have preferred turning out in domestic T20 competitions — where commercial interests, and hence wages, are rapidly growing — rather than for their country.
The once-formidable West Indies are one of the biggest losers with Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Darren Sammy all showing off their talents in the eight-team Big Bash League rather than the Test series against Australia.
“ICC events are strong because they have context… but bilateral cricket is struggling,” Irish told London’s Daily Telegraph this week.
“Players are starting to turn away from the game because they have an alternative market now.”
He cited the Big Bash League as an example of the changing trend.
“Where are the crowds going? Where is the interest? Where do the players really want to play?”