Twenty20 critics who consider the format little more than hit and giggle cricket have been given more ammunition after three new rules were introduced for the upcoming Big Bash League season.
Under the law variations, the standard six-over powerplay has been split into two: an initial four-over period at the start of each innings, plus a two-over “power surge” which the batting side can use at their discretion any time from the 11th over onwards.
The second change allows teams to make an in-game substitution after the tenth over of the first innings, bringing in the 12th or 13th player on the teamsheet – a so-called “x-factor player” – for someone who either hasn’t batted or bowled a maximum of a single over.
Finally, competition points will no longer solely be awarded based on the final result. Instead, three will be handed out for a win, up from the previous two, plus a bonus point at the ten-over mark in the second innings. The bonus point will go to the batting team if they’re ahead of their opponents’ equivalent score at the time, or to the fielding team if they’re behind.
The changes were mooted back in May, along with a proposed player draft which is yet to come to fruition.
With no need for the rule amendments from an on-field perspective, they are a clear attempt by Cricket Australia to boost interest in the Big Bash after consecutive years of shrinking crowd and TV audience numbers.
From over 30,000 spectators per game back in 2016, BBL09 drew an average crowd of little more than 18,500, while TV audiences have also dropped significantly since the competition’s heyday in 2015-16 when it was shown solely on free-to-air by Channel Ten.
It was no surprise, then, that CA’s player acquisition and cricket consultant, Trent Woodhill, made specific mention of broadcasters when the new rules were announced.
“It’s forcing you on gameday to have a narrative that both fans and broadcasters alike will have to delve into and ask questions of the decisions being made, or not made,” Woodhill said.
He also gave an example of how the mid-innings bonus point might have impacted a past match to cricket.com.au.
“Last year the Stars got 220-odd against the Sixers, and the chances of the Sixers chasing that down were slim,” he explained. “They made a good fist of it and got 180-odd, but even though they only lost by 30 runs they were out of the game a long way before the 20th over.
“So with this rule change, (Sixers captain) Moises Henriques and (coach) Greg Shipperd might’ve decided to only chase the ten-over total – they might’ve been 9-101 after ten and earned that one point, which at the back-end of a season can become pivotal.
“So it’s interesting, they play off against each other: the X-factor sub might mean that some teams think they’ll bat first, but then the bash boost point might tempt them to bat second and try to chase down that ten-over total.
“So they’re all around that segmenting of matches to keep people invested across the whole 40 overs – not just in Powerplays or death overs.”
That may indeed make for a frenetic ten overs of cricket at the start of the second innings, but it’s also directly encouraging a team to not play for the win – not to mention depriving the Stars full competition points despite a dominant batting performance, because their opponents decided not to try to reach their target.
That example would also see the game shortened by ten or so overs, something which is in direct contradiction to the “keep people invested across the whole 40” line.
The other two variations aren’t as troublesome, but they are similar to rules that were trialled by the ICC in ODIs before being replaced. It’s also hard to see their point.
The international super-sub rule was abandoned after just nine months, although by allowing teams to name two potential replacements instead of one, the BBL won’t have the same issue of the toss having an undue influence on the effectiveness of the sub.
As for giving the batting team a choice of when to take two of their powerplay overs, it’s not obvious how exactly this will encourage high-scoring play as, by forcing it to be taken after the tenth over, the “power surge” is confined to a time when most sides will be looking to up their run-rate regardless. It’s not adding extra overs with fielding restrictions either, just reallocating them.
Some teams may toy with using it at different times, but when given the choice in ODIs, most sides used it at the same stage of the innings. It’s also worth noting that when the ICC moved away from that rule, then-CEO David Richardson said part of the reasoning was to “make the game simpler for the fan”. That’s evidently not high up on the to-do list for the Big Bash.
The thing is, law changes like this aren’t going to suddenly transform the competition back into the ratings and crowd hit it once was, even with gimmicky names to try and make them sound very Cool and Exciting. Even with the recent decline, Big Bash average crowds are ahead of every other domestic competition bar the AFL – it’s still a well-watched tournament.
CA are in a tricky position though in that they have a broadcaster who paid big bucks for big ratings and are unhappy that the latter hasn’t eventuated. That’s absolutely Seven’s own fault, but it almost forces the governing body to be seen to be doing something to jazz up the competition.
The result is changes made for change’s sake, none of which offer the Big Bash any obvious improvement.