Sport

Thankfully, the 2015 Big Bash League is just not cricket

Malcolm Knox

If you've been watching Test matches in the day and the Big Bash League at night, you would know that (a) you need to get a life and (b) Twenty20 is not a different format of cricket, it is a different sport. It even deserves its own name – Crackit, say, or Trickit.

Batsmen are truly batters or, more precisely, batterers. It's just not cricket; and that's what makes it such a crowd-puller. As a sport in its infancy, T20 is developing fast, requiring new ways of playing and watching.

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The scorecard means nothing

In cricket, you can glean the story from the scorecard. Batsmen and bowlers are accountable for their figures, and you can reimagine a game from a careful perusal of scores. Not so in T20.

Chris Gayle and Aaron Finch of the Renegades walk through flames to open the batting on Wednesday night.
Chris Gayle and Aaron Finch of the Renegades walk through flames to open the batting on Wednesday night. Photo: Getty Images

With rare exceptions — a century off 50 balls, a bowling stint of 4-20 — the numbers on the scorecard give a bland, empty picture, because they don't show the impact a player makes, which can happen in one over or less.

For instance, Cameron Boyce's passable economy rate of 7.09 doesn't show that he has won two matches for the Hurricanes with single overs at critical phases. Adelaide's Alex Ross and Travis Head don't stand out in the batting averages, but each has won a match for the Strikers.

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Averages are the language of cricket; in T20, what is sought is the match-turning burst.

The nursery meets the nursing home

<em>Illustration: Simon Letch</em>
Illustration: Simon Letch  

The BBL's biggest drawcards are the newest and the oldest. It's exciting to put faces to the new names of Sam Heazlett, Joel Paris, Billy Stanlake and others.

And it touches another part of the heart to see Mike Hussey, Jacques Kallis, Shaun Tait, Brad Hodge, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara still running around. It could be a fathers-v-sons match sometimes, and that's fine – it's summer.

Brad Hogg is still the best

This is probably an embarrassment for Australian cricket, but George Bradley Hogg's unreadable wrong'un continues to make him a must-pick for the T20 World Cup.

He is the best T20 spinner we have – if the selectors dare.

Chris Lynn is out on his own

If not for a shoulder that keeps popping out in springtime, the Brisbane Heat captain would have played for Australia in all three formats by now.

The next Test No.5 will have to wait, but in T20 Lynn is a class above all other batsmen in the tournament, and it's no fault of his that the Heat are not winning.

His innings this week against Perth and Hobart were breathtaking. At its best, T20 is also cricket.

A late finish is a good finish

T20 can also be unwatchably boring. Maybe not quite tennis-quality boring, but worse than cricket-level boring. Basically it comes down to when a result ceases to be in doubt, and the later the better.

So, for instance, when Shaun Marsh and Michael Klinger were steering the Scorchers over the Melbourne Remnants on Wednesday night, with 10 overs to go it was hard not to take a closer look at that Nutribullet on TVSN.

As a television experience, T20 has much in common with basketball: you can tune in for the climax and feel that you've had a good night. And if there's no climax, you didn't miss anything.

The commentary is … different

A friend texted during the Boxing Day Test match to say that, compared with the Channel Nine commentary team, the BBL commentators sounded like Dorothy Parker's table at the Algonquin.

Having overcome the twin handicaps of a stage set that looks like the inside of a tubercular lung and a semicircular table that creates the illusion that their legs are six inches long, the Channel Ten crew are making a good fist of it.

The key? They play to their strengths. Banter and gibber are made for T20. Room for improvement? Surely, Mel McLaughlin can be trusted to do proper ball-by-ball commentary and not just boundary interviews.

A football coach is coming

The Sixers' coach, Darren Berry, said something interesting during their match with the Melbourne Retrogades. He said he had been looking to his batters to "engage with the contest".

That is, there was a psychological point where the chasing team had to get their focus on exactly what they needed to do to win. This sounds like footy-speak, and the influence of AFL mentality on T20 is growing. Many cricketers are frustrated footballers anyway, and T20 is giving them the excitement and adrenaline fix they covet in the winter code.

It is surely a matter of time before an Alastair Clarkson or a Chris Scott is recruited across the lines for a head-coaching role in T20: the skill sets have more and more in common.

Burn the rope

The "safety concerns" that have shrunk Australian cricket grounds are obviously contrived in some legal department, but soon they will make T20 look like Kanga cricket. (There's a mouth-watering clash: Marketing versus Legal!!) At least give the bowlers some chance by giving them a full field to bowl on. Ropes that are 10 or 15 metres inside the fence are clearly there for the benefit of security guards, mascots, advertisers and other supernumeraries, and incidentally to reward batsmen who miscue a top-edged reverse switch-hit ramp shot. Don't give them enough rope. Give them none.

Loyalty is growing

Notwithstanding the annual merry-go-round of players, some of the franchises are building their own characteristics.

The Perth Scorchers have a winning culture and formidable home support. It helps that most of them are locals. By contrast, the dizzying incestuousness of the two Melbourne franchises seems to have affected their way of playing.

I used to think the Stars were the glamour boys and the Renegades were the head cases. But now they've interbred so much, it's hard to remember who's playing for whom. And hard for the spectators too.

These guys are good

The advertising slogan for the PGA Tour, with its undertone of surprise, could also be used for the BBL. The message is, "Hey, you may not realise it because they play State cricket in front of their parents and seagulls, but there's some pretty amazing talent out there." 

And there is. These guys really are good.

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