Recruiting regulations and the possibility of a Big Bash League marquee player draft will be reviewed by Cricket Australia after a hectic last week of negotiations almost saw Mitchell Starc join Josh Hazlewood in what would have been a near tournament-winning play by the Sydney Sixers.
While Hazlewood was signed by the Sixers at the very end of the contracting period on Friday, Starc had appeared set to join him in a move that would have granted the Sydney club arguably the world’s best white-ball bowler for the pointy end of the tournament, drastically altering calculations for every other team.
CA were understandably eager to get every possible high profile player involved in the tournament and were disappointed that Starc ultimately did not join in time to meet the contracting deadline. The absence of Pat Cummins from the Sydney Thunder list, which left the club with a final list of 17 players rather than the maximum 18, was also a blow.
However rival clubs were less than enchanted by the fact that the Sixers were able to add Hazlewood and potentially Starc to what was already a full list by simply paying out the contracts of two lower profile players. The seam bowler Henry Thornton lost his place on the Sixers list but will have his contract paid out, with the possibility that he can earn more money by returning as an injury replacement later in the tournament. It is believed that the wristspinner Daniel Fallins would also have made way had Starc been signed.
This is not to say the Sixers were themselves happy with the scenario. The club’s general manager Jodie Hawkins was required to disclose and explain the Sixers’ plans to recruit Hazlewood and Starc on a conference call with officials from all clubs last week. Senior figures contacted by ESPNcricinfo at three BBL clubs agreed that while all wanted the best players involved in the competition, the process by which this took place needed some serious work.
“The BBL has always been known for constantly innovating,” CA’s head of the BBL Alistair Dobson told ESPNcricinfo. “We’ll review list and contracting rules to make sure they work as best they can for the competition and a big priority is making sure the best overseas and Australian players can play. To work with our clubs closely on what might need to be adjusted to make sure that happens is one of our key priorities at the end of each season.
“This year, the way the fixture was able to be built and condensed has made both international and local windows better. We’ve changed some of the overseas replacement player rules to make it easier for clubs to bring international replacement players in and out of the competition, and that’s shown in some of the players who’ve been able to find their way into the BBL this season.
“It’s relatively clear communication between the leagues and clubs as players are put on lists, we make sure clubs are given the information in a timely fashion, at the same time making sure clubs have got the opportunity to then negotiate with players and get the contracts done as required. Everything’s quite transparent and well communicated with clubs.”
There is a considerable advantage for the Sydney BBL clubs in the fact that, should they deign to take part in some or all of the BBL, the nation’s leading pace bowlers Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins are all based there. Other imbalances in the competition that have been sore points in the past have included complaints from the two-club Sydney and Melbourne markets about the ability of clubs in Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and Hobart to better balance their state and BBL contract lists in order to retain players.
“We work closely with all our clubs on their different list builds and stay in touch with them on how those lists are coming together,” Dobson said. “From our point of view, it’s great for us to have as many Australian players, particularly high profile ones, playing in the Big Bash as possible, not only out of the Test team but even this year the way we’ve been able to build the fixture to make it a better opportunity for some other big name Australian players to play more BBL.
“It’s been a really big priority, we’re really excited about how that’s progressed. As you come towards the end of a contracting period there’s always a flurry of activity, the Sixers have got great relationships with those players and they’re really keen to be part of the season and we’re really excited the Sixers were able to get it done.”
The other major recruiting issue for the BBL remains the broad spectrum of contract value available in different T20 leagues around the world, particularly the Bangladesh and Pakistan leagues that clash with the Australian tournament and can offer far more money for a lot less game time. The recruitment of players like AB de Villiers to the Brisbane Heat requires far more than what can simply be offered within each club’s cap, resulting in a rash of third-party deals that have the ring of an exhibition tournament rather than a fully-fledged league.
“We work with all our clubs constantly on how we make sure they can build and recruit players in the best interests of the competition,” Dobson said. “From time to time we work with them on the best way to do that, and that might mean the league supporting that in different ways.
“I think from our perspective we’re reviewing each year the salary cap and the ability for clubs to recruit the players they need to put on the best possible competition. But at the same time we’re mindful that our selling proposition to players extends to the best stadiums, the biggest crowds, the best-run competition, the most exciting cricket.
“So while being competitive in the market from a salary point of view is important, we’re also mindful of ensuring the other things around the offering to players are as good as they can be, and the BBL is showing over time it delivers on those. That said the competitive landscape is constantly shifting and we need to make sure we’re on top of it.”
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
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