SYDNEY: Australia’s high-octane Big Bash League launches its seventh season on Tuesday with the whiz-bang Twenty20 cricket league looking to build on attendance and television ratings successes, with Perth Scorchers favourites to win another crown.
More than one million people went to BBL matches last season with average crowds topping 30,000.
While it trails the Indian Premier League (IPL) in overall attendance and financial clout, officials claim it was the fifth-biggest league in the world last season in terms of people turning up to watch.
Big Bash head Kim McConnie said Cricket Australia had even higher expectations for the fast-paced, family-friendly competition that sold out 35 matches last year.
There will be eight more fixtures, up to 43, and four new venues around the country.
“We believe this is going to be one of the most exciting BBL seasons to date,” said McConnie, just two months into her job as the new BBL chief.
“Sport is entertainment. So what we’re seeing, even from a cricket purist who loves to watch the Big Bash because they love the competition, they also like the entertainment and the fact they can bring their kids.
“They want to be entertained and make sure they’re getting more for their dollar.”
In glitzy style, BBL has led the way with LED stumps and bails flashing on impact. They also have helmet cameras on batsmen and in recent seasons players have been worn microphones to talk to commentators during play.
Former England captain Kevin Pietersen got himself into trouble last season when he was charged and fined for criticising an umpire’s decision while wearing a microphone on-field.
Reigning champions Perth Scorchers are hot favourites for their fourth crown, while Melbourne Stars, featuring polarising batsman Pietersen, are chasing their elusive first title after several years of near misses.
The Scorchers have maintained the bulk of their squad from last year’s triumphant season and are likely to again contend for glory with coach Justin Langer again at the helm and English allrounder David Willey as their overseas import.
Brisbane Heat, who finished second in the regular competition last season, possesses two explosive hitters with local Chris Lynn, who leads the BBL’s six tally with 94, and retired New Zealand star Brendon McCullum.
The Sydney Sixers, crushed by the Scorchers in last season’s final, again have big-hitting Englishman Jason Roy as their overseas player along with Test bowlers Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon.
Skipper Aaron Finch leads the under-performing Melbourne Renegades, who have boom-hitting West Indian Kieran Pollard on their books.
Pollard will miss the first seven games of the tournament due to international commitments and Afghanistan off-spinner Mohammad Nabi fills his place.
Sydney Thunder have former Australian all-rounder Shane Watson backing up for another season aged 36, while overseas import Jos Buttler has the three quickest ODI centuries for England, including a 46-ball effort against Pakistan.
The Thunder only have Buttler’s services for the opening six matches when he leaves for international duty.
The other two franchises in the eight-team BBL are the Hobart Hurricanes and Adelaide Strikers.
The final takes place on February 4. —AFP