Big Bash is the Biggest and the Baddest T20 League!
High-octane matches, the globe’s top players, sold-out stadiums and absorbing entertainment: Australia has become the world leader in T20 franchise cricket. The Big Bash might only be six years old, but it’s got more clout and charisma than any of its competitors world-wide. It stands shoulders flexed and barrel chest pushed out, towering above its peers. The Indian Premier League, for so long the groundbreaker, has been pushed to the side like an older brother watching his sibling emerge from an adolescence spent between weights machines and a high-protein diet. Across the continents, upstarts and start-ups can only look up and wish it was them. In England - the format’s birthplace - administrators haggle and argue over the direction their tournament should be taking, every passing squabble a step backward in the pursuit of their great rivals Down Under. The Big Bash’s climb to T20’s summit has been relentless and methodically planned. From the splitting of the franchises to the scheduling of the event itself, the freedom for cities to shape their own cricketing culture and the decision to allow the whole thing on free-to-air TV, the Aussies have barely put a foot wrong. And so it comes to pass that a cricket competition is ranking among the big boys when it comes to average attendances once again. Remarkably, the Big Bash is now the seventh-best attended professional club tournament worldwide, based on game-by-game figures, with 28,249 - on average - attending each of its 32 games in 2015-16. Seventh in the world. In all professional sports. You know La Liga? Yeah, the one with Ronaldo and Messi and Neymar and Suarez and Griezmann and the rest? They’re eighth. Sure, it’s over hundreds of matches and incorporates 18 teams not eight but the point still stands. This is a brand that works. This is a concept that inspires. These are players who entertain. In England, the Natwest Blast is put together from spare parts and desperately needs total refurbishment. In India, behind-the-scenes scandals have become tiresome, distracting from what the IPL should be about - the sport and its fans. Elsewhere, aspiring countries don’t have the wealth to pump into their competitions. Australia have the money, the time, the resources and - most importantly - the imagination. No wonder the players consider it the elite domestic T20 competition. Eoin Morgan, whose stint with the Sydney Thunder this year included a matchwinning six off the final ball of the game against Melbourne Stars - exactly the sort of drama which has kept so many transfixed - sums it up perfectly. ‘Whenever anybody goes to Australia, the culture of sport is far higher because it’s generalised across the board,’ he said, naming the Big Bash as the world’s number one T20 event. ‘They have a unique position where every evening for about 35 days there is a game every night, bar one or two nights over Christmas. ‘They’ve found their niche and they’ve created a great product. It’s a great tournament to play in. ‘The lifestyle of playing T20 cricket, you can live a life outside of cricket as opposed to spending 12 hours a day at the ground.’ And that’s what Australia have done - embracing modern culture and mixing it with modern sport to create a helter-skelter, four-hour entertainment powerball which has gripped a nation and, through the TV cameras, has become the envy of the world. Right now, the only way anyone can hope to catch up is to follow the Australian model down to the very last letter. Until then, they'll all be left to stare upwards in envy.