January freed up for Australian Test stars to play in BBL as draft unveiled

As the Big Bash League unveils an overseas player draft to tempt the likes of Andre Russell, Kieron Pollard and Faf du Plessis with offers worth up to $340,000 for a few games’ work, plans are afoot to get Australia’s Test players involved in January.

Senior cricket sources confirmed to The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that the South Africa one-day series in mid-January is set to be cancelled, with Cricket Australia and CSA working through the finer details of how to do so.

Andre Russell is among the prime targets for a BBL spot this season.Credit:Getty Images

A compensation payment may be required of the tourists, while Perth Stadium, the SCG and Bellerive Oval in Hobart would all lose a significant day of international cricket.

Efforts to get top Australian players in the BBL following the end of the Test match segment of the summer have extended to requests that clubs keep a spot clear on their lists for the likes of Pat Cummins, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and company. CA will then be able to tip in extra cash outside the salary cap to help provide them with a contract.

The plausible involvement of these players, though David Warner still appears highly unlikely to sign with a BBL club, would soothe concerns about a possible exodus of overseas players to lucrative leagues in the UAE and South Africa from about January 10 onwards, having taken big money draft spots for the early weeks of the event.

“It’s central to the ongoing success of the BBL,” the executive in charge of the tournament, Alistair Dobson, said of Australian player involvement. “Part of the BBL’s existence is working around international cricket and doing whatever we can to create windows for those most popular and biggest name players to play. We know they want to play, we know they’re as passionate about the success of the BBL as anyone.

“We’re hopeful there’s a small window towards the end of the season where we’re really hopeful those guys will be able to take a place. We’re working with clubs to encourage them to get those players onto their lists so they can play, and beyond this season certainly there’s work being done around the FTP and the international schedule to free up January to create those windows.”

Under draft regulations to be tried for the first time in August, overseas players will be divided into platinum ($340,000), gold ($260,000), silver ($175,000) and bronze ($100,000) categories, with each club to pick up to three signings. Each club will commit $350,000 of its salary cap space to overseas players, with CA covering the remainder.

There is also a player retention rule, allowing an overseas player with an existing relationship with a club – think Rashid Khan with the Adelaide Strikers – to be kept by that club with one pick at any stage of the draft’s several rounds. There is no minimum required number of games.

Whoever is chosen or not, the pool of overseas talent available will be on full public display, pressuring clubs to meet both the planning demands of their coaches and list managers but also the entertainment and box office requirements of the league and its broadcasters.

Research into the BBL, conducted for CA by Colgan Bauer with marketing insights from Where To, have painted a picture that is less alarmist than some, although it is clear that the league’s audience size is more transient than most.

The figures outline how much of the drop-off in BBL broadcast audiences since 2017-18 – the last season before the current broadcast deal with Foxtel and Seven – has been through the scheduling of extra day games. Prime-time audiences had, until last season, only dipped by a couple per cent.

Even so, the league faces a long haul assignment to generate deeper relationships with supporters. More than three quarters of the BBL’s audience is deemed “casual” rather than committed, as opposed to 55 per cent committed supporters in the NRL and 78 per cent in the AFL.

Dobson said this summer’s measure of success would be big crowds at the grounds providing a vibrant backdrop for broadcast coverage.

“We’re really optimistic about the season, particularly crowds getting back,” he said. “I don’t think we can underestimate the role of having people in the stands has on the BBL, and clubs, players and our broadcasters are committed to doing whatever we need to do to get people back.

“Our broadcasters are very clear to us that filling stadiums should be a primary objective, not just for commercial outcomes but also for the quality of the broadcast. They’re very clear that a big crowd equals an even better spectacle on TV.”

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