BBL 2018-19 review: More games, less crowd; Dan Christian's chemistry with finals; Asian spinners' thunder Down Under
After two Melbourne teams faced off in the Big Bash final, the Renegades celebrated a remarkable comeback victory over the Stars. It was the first time either team from the Victorian capital had won the tournament, and it came thanks to a dramatic collapse of 7 for 19 after the Stars had been cruising in chasing 145. While the celebrations wrapped up, we were left to look back at the tournament as a whole.
All you can eat, or too much of a good thing?
The major debate over the Big Bash this season was about the duration. This was the first year that the league matched the IPL in having a full home-and-away season totalling 49 games. The most successful Big Bash season in terms of average crowd attendance was two seasons ago when only 35 matches were played.
Cricket Australia had to give it a shot. If the tournament was proving so popular, perhaps more games would be a huge bonus? But it didn't work out, at least not at the first attempt. A tournament which had previously been timed to match school holidays in finishing by the end of January was now continuing until the second half of February. With kids back at school and parents back at work, attendances dropped sharply.
The official word is that everything is fine: Big Bash boss Kim McConnie kept her assessment upbeat. "We knew that it was going to take fans a while to catch up [and] that we'd end up with smaller crowds at some games. And we're OK with that. It's going to take us a couple of seasons to push that back up."
The question is whether that's possible, or whether other factors will keep pushing down.
The best job in town
The best gig in T20 cricket is opening the batting. That's when you have the chance to pile on the runs like no one else. A couple of seasons ago Chris Lynn and Brendon McCullum were the stars of the league, becoming known as the Bash Brothers for their dynamite exploits at the top of the order for the Brisbane Heat.
This time that place was taken by Matthew Wade and D'Arcy Short for the Hobart Hurricanes. The pair in purple looted and plundered in taking their team to the top of the table. Short's breakout year was the previous season when he set the season scoring record of 572. This time around, both he and Wade broke his old mark by putting on 1229 runs between them.
The only problem was that when they faltered in their semi-final, the rest of the Hurricanes couldn't fill the breach.
Last chance saloon
Accordingly, there was plenty of debate about whether the team that finishes top of the table should have two chances to qualify for the final, or should make the final directly while other teams play off to face them. People pointed to the IPL and to Australia's football codes, where each have systems to reward the top-ranked team.
This isn't a very strong argument, given the top team in the Big Bash only has to win two home games in a row to win the title. The fact that several teams have failed doesn't mean it should be changed. It means they weren't good enough. How can it be easier for lower-ranked teams to win on the road?
If anything, protecting the top team makes the competition less interesting, by stacking the odds against weaker teams and all but locking in the finalists ahead of time. There's also the argument that straight knockouts ensure the form teams make the final. The Hurricanes finished top but lost four of their last six. The Stars beat them into the final with momentum behind them.
The Stars of the show
That run to the top was one of the more exciting parts of the Big Bash. In the previous season, the Stars had finished stone motherless last. After a patchy effort in 2018-19, they were on the brink of missing out again.
With a last chance against the second-ranked Sydney Sixers at the MCG, Stars captain Glenn Maxwell blasted 82 from 43 balls in a fierce display of straight hitting, and the Stars bowlers dismantled the Sydney team to secure the fourth spot.
That also bumped the Sixers to third place, meaning they had to travel again to Melbourne for their losing semi-final against the Renegades.
The other party who owed thanks to Maxwell was Cricket Australia. Earlier in the season, the floodlights at Brisbane's home ground had failed when the Sydney Thunder looked well placed for a win. CA controversially split the points between the teams. Had the Stars not taken the fourth spot, it would have gone to Brisbane ahead of the Thunder on net run rate. A lot of potential ill-feeling was averted. Glenn Maxwell: peacemaker.
Dan is definitely the man
Dan Christian is good at making T20 finals and getting better with age at winning T20 finals. In the last year, he's won in England, South Africa, and now Australia. In the semi-final, he walked in as a big run chase was slipping away, and scorched 31 from 14 balls with three massive sixes to nail the win.
In the final, he came in after a collapse at 65 for 5 and rebuilt the innings to an eventual 144 with a score of 38 from 30. He then took two vital catches, bowled two tight overs, then finished off the Stars' batting collapse by dismissing their last pair of recognised batsmen in Seb Gotch and Dwayne Bravo. The all-rounder was player of the match for the Renegades in both games, and it's fair to say they couldn't have done it without him.
The wares of Asia
Season 2018-19 was notably short on big names from around the world. You can understand why: if you were AB de Villiers, semi-retired with a young family, you would want to drop into a league for three weeks, not two months, except where an IPL pay packet is on offer.
So while stars of the international circuit played in the shorter Bangladesh Premier League, the Big Bash had little in addition to domestic talent. Joe Root and Jos Buttler dropped in for a handful of games. The only A-listers to commit to a full season were Rashid Khan and McCullum, the latter creaking audibly while still diving on the boundary before retiring from the league.
Tom Curran and Jofra Archer stuck around, while the most successful import was Harry Gurney, who could very safely be described these days as a former England player. Gurney helped the Renegades to the title with his yorkers and slower balls, but should be able to stroll through Heathrow Airport on his way home without being recognised.
The international flavour of the tournament came in the guise of Asian spin, largely following Rashid from the new talent factory of Afghanistan. All-rounder Mohammad Nabi rejoined the Renegades for a second season. Mystery spinner Mujeeb ur Rahman played half a season with Brisbane, while another teenage leg-spinner in Qais Ahmad parachuted in for Hobart at the business end.
The third leggie to capture the imagination was Sandeep Lamichanne, the emerging sensation from Nepal who delivers the ball in such a flurry of arms and legs that it's probably impossible to pick. Even Lamichhane couldn't resist the lure of Bangladesh, having already signed a contract before he was offered one in Melbourne. But one advantage of the Big Bash going for so long that he was able to leave, play the full BPL, and still be back in Melbourne in time for finals.