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Can the New BBL Rules solve Australia’s Big Bash crisis?

The Big Bash League has whipped up a new set of playing conditions for this edition of the tournament with a horde of changes in the actual essence of T20 Cricket, sparking off some major debate.

Before we delve into the nuances, here are the rule changes without much ado.

‘Power Surge’ – The powerplay will now be split into four mandatory overs at the start and a two-over slab that is used at the discretion of the batting team. The batting team can use for this only after the 11th over of their innings. The fielding restrictions are same as that of the powerplay.

‘X-factor Player’ – Essentially a steal from te largely unsuccessful ‘super-sub’ rule, the X-factor player is named as either the 12th or 13th player in the team before the toss, and can be substituted in after the 10th over of the first innings. He replaces any player who is yet to bat, or hasn’t bowled more than one over.

‘Bash Boost’ – With this a bonus point is awarded to the chasing side if they are above the equivalent 10-over score of their opposition in the second innings. On the flip side, if they’re behind at the 10-over mark, the fielding side gets the additional point. Teams will also be awarded three points for a win.

“The … [changes] prioritise scoring, exciting cricket, introduce new strategic angles and ensure there’s always something to play for throughout the entire match,” Cricket Australia’s head of Big Bash Leagues Alistair Dobson said in a statement on Monday. We’re confident our fans will love what these innovations bring to the game,” Trent Woodhill, the BBL’s player acquisition and cricket consultant, said.

“The best T20 leagues across the globe are the ones that continue to innovate, push the boundaries and challenge the status quo. The introduction of these new playing conditions firmly puts the Big Bash League in that category.”

While the new rules as such appear exciting, there are some fundamental issues that aren’t addressed, but should have been with the falling interest in the Big Bash League over the last two seasons.

According to a report on ESPNCricinfo, the “aggregate average national audiences for Seven and Fox Cricket across the regular BBL season duly tally up to 780,000, down from 838,000 in 2018-19, and a long way short of the 944,000 returned by Ten three summers ago”.

The diminishing viewership is down to falling interest in the league as a result of poor timing, lack of home players and less star players from overseas. Instead of addressing these primary concerns, the BBL has time and again sought to spike interest with needless gimmicks starting with the bat flip in 2018 (for the toss) that received a lot of flak.

As Harsha Bhogle noted, the “great success of T20 is its simplicity.”

By bringing in some wholesome changes to the very essence of the sport, Australia are shooting themselves on the foot. The questions they ought to have asked themselves is why the league has lost interest. The answer lies in the availability, or the lack of it, of their own players, forget quality foreign recruits. 

Increasing the number of overseas caps or scheduling at a time major series’ aren’t on could’ve given BBL a boost in viewership. Instead, adding to the drama is a lot of math, some farcical player substitution rules and a points system that takes away the ‘winning’ mentality. That they failed to remember that two of these rules were tried and failed at International level (in ODIs) says everything you need to know.

Rohit Sankar is a freelance cricket journalist stuck in a love-hate live-in relationship with the game. To rile him up, mention the 1999 World Cup semi-final. Rohit has been writing about cricket for well over 10 years now, and has written for a variety of news and sports outlets over this time.

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