Big Bash League - Review
The BBL came to it’s conclusion last weak, with a repeat of last season’s final - Perth Scorchers taking on Sydney Sixers. We got a different result this time around though as Perth romped to victory to win their fourth BBL title. In the end it was a very one-sided match, though that didn’t always look like it was going to be the case, when Sydney took four early wickets to leave Perth 25–4 after six overs. The Sixers would’ve felt very confident of clinching their third BBL title in a row. However, that wasn't the case, thanks to a brilliant fifth wicket partnership of over 100 in less than ten overs between Ashton Turner and Laurie Evans. An incredible partnership given the situation and magnitude of the match, Laurie Evans’ innings in particular, was dazzling, playing some ridiculously good shots and showcasing his offside hitting range. It wasn’t just a partnership filled with power either, the pair ran the legs of the Sixers in the field, managing to score 47 runs from the 48 balls they didn’t hit to the boundaries, it was essentially the perfect partnership.
You never really got the sense that Sydney Sixers had much chance of chasing over 170 against the best bowling attack in the competition, especially with their depleted XI. It would’ve required a knock of similar quality to the one Hayden Kerr had produced in the previous game but when Moises Henriques departed with the score at 46–3, you felt was all but over for the Sixers. A collapse followed as they were bowled out for 92, inside 17 overs. A disappointing spectacle for a final but not particularly surprising considering the two playing XI’s on the day.
In truth, the tournament was a difficult watch at times and betters, fantasy players and cricket fans alike will probably be glad the tournament is now over. Judging by some of the crowds in Australia this season, the Australian public won’t be too disappointed that it’s over. I guess you do have to give some credit to the BBL for managing to complete the tournament in uncertain times but you also got the sense that they were making it up as they went along at time.
It wasn’t just the lack of crowds/atmosphere at games that caused an underwhelming BBL but also the standard of the competition. If you’re going to be hosting a eight team franchise competition, you better be sure your country is producing an adequate amount of t20 talent to support the tournament and I’m not sure Australia are doing that currently. Specifically Australia seem to be really struggling to produce t20 batters, across the last three seasons of BBL u23 batters have had a strike rate of 119.8 and an average of 20.3, only facing just over 10% of total deliveries. For context the average/strike rate for non-u23 batters in the last three seasons has been 25.6 & 132.1, with a boundary percentage 2.3% higher than u23’s. For full disclosure I have no what the numbers look like for other leagues but I doubt they’d be as bad as this.
Failing that, you need to ensure enough overseas players allowed and your best domestic players are available for the majority of the competition. Failing to tick all three of those boxes is always likely to result in questions over the standard of the tournament.
If we look at overseas players first, in comparison to other franchise leagues (not including the T20 Blast) BBL allows less players anyway. With each franchise allowed to use up to three overseas players in the playing XI at any time, this was increased from two before the start of the 20/21 season. Although it still isn’t four players, which is common place in most other franchise leagues around the world (IPL,PSL,CPL) and it could be argued all of those countries have greater white ball depth than Australia. In addition when teams aren’t utilising their quota of overseas player it becomes problematic:
Here we can see that teams used only about two thirds of their possible overseas picks. The irony in this being that the three teams who had the highest percentage of overseas appearances used finished outside the top three, possibly slightly skewed by playing less knockout matches, which was when the overseas availability issue became even more issue, due to England’s t20 series with West Indies and the start of the PSL.
Eventual winners Perth sat at 73%, importantly though they had at least two overseas players throughout, including during the knockout rounds. Melbourne Stars came closest to maximising the usage of overseas appearances (88.1%) and they made six overseas signings, who were available at various stages throughout the tournament. Ultimately it didn’t result in success, though that wasn't helped by having to play 2–3 games mid tournament with a squad that was severely impacted by Covid. Two teams used under 50% of their potential overseas appearances (Adelaide & Sydney Sixers). In this current climate planning for overseas players can be difficult, so not having 85–90%+ can be excused but anything less than 50–60% is just inadequate planning in my opinion. It’s why I have little sympathy for the Sixers, despite having to play the knockout rounds with a depleted squad, they didn’t have a single overseas player for their final 5–6 games of the tournament.
As for the availability of key domestic players it’s fair to say it was a mixed bag. Once again, in comparison to other franchise tournaments that are played during gaps in the host countries international calendars, this ensures full availability for domestic players. This would be the norm in the IPL, PSL, CPL & even BPL, where as this isn’t the case for Australia’s premier domestic competition:
Above is a list of players who have played in a t20 for Australia since the start of 2021. Here we can see that five of the 15 man WC squad didn’t even have a BBL franchise and a further four played less than 10 games. In total if we give the players that didn’t have a franchise a base of 15 matches, appearances from what should be *in theory* the best t20 players Australia have to offer totalled 236 out of a possible 399. This comes in at around 59%, however if we just look at the players selected for the fifteen man World Cup squad, only 102 appearances out of a possible 222 were made, coming in at 45%.
So I think that gives a relatively good indication as to why the standard of the competition struggled this season, with all three issue a contributing factor. Of course Covid had an impact as well; several teams had fairly large outbreaks throughout the season, which resulted in a lot of players being used:
In total 178 players were used this season, a jump of 20.2% from last season and 25% from two seasons ago. We also saw three teams used 24 or more players; the most a team had used in either of the previous two seasons was 21. Incredibly Brisbane Heat almost used 30 players and the lowest amount of players used by a team was 19 (Melbourne Renegades, Perth & Sydney Thunder) where as the lowest in the two seasons beforehand had been 15 & 16 respectively. Overall I think all four of these reasons contributed to what was one of the weaker seasons of a franchise tournament in recent history.
Anyway that’s enough discussion about what went wrong, let’s talk about the teams that did well. Perth Scorchers were excellent throughout and fully deserved their fourth BBL title. They were an above average batting side but in typical Scorchers fashion it was with the ball where they really stood out. Comfortably the most economical side this season while also taking wickets more regularly than everyone else:
Unsurprisingly they also had the best economy differential (0.66) was over 0.5 better than anyone else. Essentially they were the best team by a comfortable margin, here are a couple of graphs that highlight that:
They were the only team in the ideal bottom right hand corner. While three teams featured in the top left hand corner (below average bowling & batting), from this we can tell that Melbourne Renegades and Brisbane Heat were the two worst teams in the competition by a distance. Sydney Thunder were the best batting side in the tournament but slightly below average with the ball.
Now for boundary percentages:
Sydney Thunder were the best side by quite a distance in this regard, which has been a familiar theme in recent seasons. If they could recruit a quality domestic pace option, they’d possibly become the best side in the tournament for me. It’s interesting that Perth didn’t really stand out here, they were still consistent (3rd and 2nd best) for batting and bowling respectively but nowhere near as dominant as they were when we looked at economy rates. It looks like they made this up by being the 2nd best batting side when it came to strike rotation, the best six hitting side and also bowling more dot balls than anyone else by almost 4%. Two other teams joined Perth in the ideal bottom right hand corner; Sydney Thunder & Melbourne Stars, once again suggesting that the Stars were better than their final position in the table suggested.
With teams looked at, it’s time to check out who were the best individual performers this season. Firstly with a basic balls per dismissal vs strike rate graph:
Here we can see many players that were expected to do well this season, did so. The likes of Hales, Maxwell and Joe Clarke were all among the fastest scores this season. One player I didn’t anticipate to have such an impressive season was Matt Short and Adelaide’s move to have him as their first choice opener was a shrewd one. There would also be a case to argue that Ben McDermott performed better than expect, at the age of 27, he looks to be an improving player approaching his peak years, so it’ll be interested to see if his last 1.5 seasons of Big Bash sees him get any interested from other t20 leagues abroad.
One player that definitely performed worse than expected was Chris Lynn, who averaged 18 and struck at 125, well below his BBL career numbers of 35 & 149 respectively. He has always been a fairly unreliable player of spin and that continued this season, only scoring 51 from 64 balls with four dismissals but his numbers against non-spin really dropped off this season; still striking at 150, however, he only averaged 20. Looking at averages over the course of a single season isn’t ideal because luck/bad luck could play a part either way, so I probably wouldn’t read too much into it for now. Other players that underwhelmed included Wade, Christian & Weatherald. Wade wasn’t exactly poor, just above average for both balls per dismissal & strike rate but compared to his usual level in the BBL it was under par. Dan Christian had a fairly terrible tournament in all honesty, probably not helped by only facing 29% of his deliveries during the ‘death overs’, in comparison to almost 46% in the season before. He’s also now 38 so age could be playing a part in this. Weatherald had his worst BBL season by a distance, he’d typically been a reliable performer for Adelaide, this season he was anything but that, averaging below 20 and striking at 107, which was lower than any other player that faced at least 170 balls. Eventually he found himself out of the side for Adelaide’s final few games, I do wonder if he’ll be tempted to try to secure a move during the off season.
Who were the best boundary hitters?
As always seems to be the case, Alex Hales found himself as one of the best boundary hitters in the tournament, this time he was top. It’s been a regular theme in recent BBL & PSL seasons in particular and Hales boasts an incredible strike rate of 190 in powerplays since the start of 2021. Billings finishing with the second best boundary percentage would be a nice surprise for English fans, Billings is showing vast improvements as a t20 player and his numbers for Syndey Thunder have been very good; average of 34 and strike rate of 148, despite mostly batting at number four. Glenn Maxwell was closest to the ideal top right hand corner, rotating strike excellently as well as hitting boundaries. Other good boundary hitters included Matt Short, Clarke and McDermott, while Kurtis Patterson also did well, having his best BBL season by a distance.
Moises Henriques and Jon Wells were two of the best strike rotators, as they normally are but Matt Renshaw was best in this regard. The Perth duo of Laurie Evans & Ashton Turner also rotated strike very well, as well as being above average boundary hitters, these two were crucial for Perth batting in the middle order. Munro and Finch were two fairly big names that finished the tournament with below average boundary hitting stats, at least Finch wasn’t as bad as he was in the previous BBL season. Mackenzie Harvey started the tournament fairly well but fell off dramatically, finishing the tournament with the lowest boundary percentage of any player to face more than 170 balls.
Now let’s look at strike rates vs non-spin & spin:
Australia don’t exactly lack players that can strike the ball well against pace, there are many that come to mind immediately, less so against spin so it’ll be encouraging that a few more players are emerging in this regard, rather than the usual suspects of Maxwell & Philippe. Here I’m specifically referring to Cartwright, McDermott & Turner. Cartwright showed impressive development in his game against spin, which has been a weak point historically, if he can continue to improve this part of his game it wouldn’t surprise me if an Australia call-up/other t20 league opporunties come in the next year or so. The same goes for Ashton Turner, who scored quickly against spin last season but did across a slightly larger sample size this time around, perhaps he’s becoming more confident in his own game against spin. Finally Ben McDermott had excellent numbers against spin for a second successive season, scoring 212 runs from 130 balls while not getting dismissed at all, this followed on from averaging 40 and striking at 167 last season.
I feel like it’s important to mention that while the standard of the tournament was weaker than in previous seasons, I’m not sure the quality of spin decreased, so the numbers for players above certainly carry weight. This is backed up by scoring against spin being the slowest it has been for three seasons:
Five the eight teams also played an overseas spinner in more than half of their games, while Sydney Sixers also had Shadab Khan briefly. Sydney Thunder & Perth Scorchers were the only two teams that didn’t have an overseas spinner, both had two good quality domestic spin options though.
Maxwell was the fastest scorer against spin overall, which would come of little surprise to anyone that watched him during the IPL, while Hales dominated non-spin. Jason Sangha and Moises Henriques were below average against spin but very good against non-spin, both averaging almost 50 and striking at almost 150 when not facing spin, Sangha in particular impressed with his pull shots against pace. Mitch Marsh was the anti-thesis of what you’d expect, around average against non-spin and one of the faster scorers against spin. D’arcy Short was closest to the bottom left hand corner, which is exactly where you wouldn’t want to be as a t20 batter; well below average against pace & spin, that combined with his approach to building an innings summed up a dreadful season from him.
Talking of individual batting approaches, which players scored quickly from ball one?
It wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that watched the tournament regularly that Matt Short was the fastest scorer in his first 10 balls, Tim David was slightly quicker but didn’t face 170 balls in the tournament. T20 Blast bashers Hales & Clarke played in a similar way to how they’ve done so in any other t20 leagues, two of the best around at utilising the powerplay. While Ashton Turner’s strike rate of above 140 in his first ten balls was impressive considering the positions he batted. Maxwell, McDermott and Cartwright were all relatively steady starters, in comparison to how they accelerated after that.
D’Arcy Short, Daniel Hughes and Max Bryant all struck at below 90 in their first ten balls this season, which is a really poor effort, especially considering they all played in top order roles at least a few times this season,
Finally from a batting side of things, let’s look at who performed well in comparison to their teammates:
To be honest this doesn’t really tell us a load, other than highlighting the players that we already knew had good seasons, actually had good seasons. It maybe reflects slightly better on the likes of Wells and Finch, who had decent enough seasons in fairly average batting sides. It also shows how bad D’Arcy Short was, given that Hobart weren’t an awful batting side this season. It doesn’t reflect too well for Jason Sangha & Munro but I don’t think they necessarily had bad tournaments, especially Sangha, who arguably couldn’t have performed his role much better. Sydney Thunder needed an ‘anchor-type’ player amongst a lot of attacking players, particularly after Billings left.
With batters covered, it’s time to look at bowlers. Firstly economy rate & strike rate:
As always when you just look at a graph like this, spin will dominate, mainly due to the overs they tend to operate in, so it’s worthing noting that the average bowling ER for spinners this season was 7.43, in comparison to 8.4 for non-spin. Despite that, spinners that found themselves in the ideal bottom left hand corner obviously had excellent tournaments. This would include the likes of Rashid Khan (of course), Steve O’Keefe, Tanveer Sangha and Qais Ahmad. In truth it would be more of a surprise if Rashid Khan wasn’t among the best bowlers in a franchise competition that he takes part in. Steve O’Keefe was very reliable when he played, unfortunately for him and the Sixers injuries/niggles occurred quite often throughout the tournament. Tanveer Sangha backed up an excellent debut campaign last season, with an equally impressive one this time around, taking a few less wickets but his economy was far better. Qais also did well for the stars as part of a leg spin duo with Adam Zampa and arguably performed better than his vastly experienced teammate, though it’s worth noting that Qais generally bowled easier overs.
The Perth duo of Hatzoglou & Ashton Agar were solid, while Mujeeb, Matt Short and Chris Green did an excellent job of containing even if they lacked wicket taking threat. Mujeeb & Chris Green have a reputation of being good at limiting the runs they concede but Matt Short’s success was surprising and BBL teams were guilty of not exploiting the fact he often had to bowl four overs due to the Adelaide team set up.
As for ‘pace’ bowlers that stood out it’s difficult to look past Peter Siddle & AJ Tye, both of whom took 25+ wickets this season. Hayden Kerr also took 25 wickets, though I’m not quite sure how and I’m not convinced he knew either, saying at one point during the tournament he was expecting to have more of an impact with the bat. Jason Behrendorff was the most economical ‘pace’ bowler this season and added to that was also a consistent wicket taking threat in the powerplay. Riley Meredith was a regular wicket taker, as he was always likely to be in the BBL with the pace he bowls at. While Tom Rogers, Gurinder Sandhu & Brody Couch all had impressive campaigns, especially Brody Couch in his debut season.
I wouldn’t say there were any pacers who were particularly bad, though Ben Dwarshuis was probably the most disappointing. Although it’s worth noting that it could’ve been down to misuse by his team, despite solid powerplay bowling performances last season, Dwarshuis only bowled eight of his 44 overs in that phase this time around.
Who were the best bowlers when it came to limiting boundaries & bowling dot balls?
As expected, spinners dominate this again at first glance. Once again though, it’s important to the note the difference between boundary percentages against non-spin & spin across the entire season, with non-spinners conceding over 5% more boundaries than spinners. A sizeable difference would’ve been expected ahead of the BBL, though perhaps not this big.
Steve O’Keefe finished the season as the bowler with the lowest boundary percentage conceded, an impressive feat for an orthodox spinner, hopefully he attempts to keep playing for at least one more season. Mujeeb was the closest to the ideal top left hand corner; bowling a high number of dot balls and conceding a low amount of boundaries. While Chris Green was very good at limiting boundaries and only conceded two sixes in the entire tournament but struggled to bowl dot balls, perhaps unsurprisingly for a right arm orthodox spinner.
Given the discrepancy between boundary percentages against spin & non-spin, anything under 16.5–17% for a non-spin bowler could be considered as a good effort, especially if bowling in crucial phases. From this we can see that similar names to the first graph all had good numbers again with Behrendorff & Meredith also bowling a high percentage of dot balls. AJ Tye probably conceded slightly more boundaries than you’d want on face value but given he bowled 50% of his deliveries in the power surge/death overs, he also had an excellent tournament and the same can be applied to Peter Siddle. McAndrew conceded boundaries most often of any bowler with the selected sample size and I believe this was the case last season. He has shown a bit of value with new ball bowling & lower order hitting but he’ll need to improve in other area’s fairly quickly otherwise he won’t be a regular in the BBL for much longer.
Finally let’s look at how bowlers faired in comparison to their teammates:
Here we get a slightly better sense of which pace bowlers performed best and also which spinners were actually very good. It also looks a bit better for Zampa, considering he bowled almost 40% of his deliveries during the powerplay/death overs, with some scattered power surge overs added in to that, his role was most difficult of all the spinners by far.
The usual suspects as spinners stood out; Qais, Tanveer, O’Keefe and Rashid Khan were all fantastic,with Mujeeb having the greatest difference between his economy & his teammates, helped by playing in a fairly rubbish team.
It doesn't reflect particularly well for McAndrew again, who didn’t even have a great wicket taking threat to compensate for being expensive either, as well as not bowling that many ‘tough overs’ in comparison to a lot of other pace bowlers.
Team of the Tournament
This was the official BBL team of the tournament, voted for by the head coaches of each franchise:
From a personnel point of view I agree with most of these picks but I do prefer team of the tournaments that have a slightly more realistic representation of the individual players role during the season. Considering that, this would be my team:
Perhaps the most controversial players here would be Billings and Cartwright. I’ve got Billings, despite only playing nine games because I felt he showed the most consistency and ability to adapt his game of the players that batted in the middle order, he anchored against spin when required and also accelerated from ball one if needed. While Hilton Cartwright showed vast improvement in his all round game and finished the tournament with the second most sixes, only Ben McDermott hit more.
Honourable mentions: Alex Hales, Josh Philippe, Mitch Marsh, Moises Henriques, Glenn Maxwell, Laurie Evans, Daniel Sams, Sean Abbott, Jason Behrendorff, Tanveer Sangha & Qais Ahmad.
How can the BBL improve?
For me it’s clear the BBL needs to find a way to become an attractive option again, for both the Australian cricketing public and the wider cricketing community and a number of BBL players have voiced their opinions on this.
Ideally it would probably be a six team tournament but I don’t think there’s much chance of that happening, so instead I’d look to reduce the number of group stage games of 10–12 games or at least make the tournament more compact, in the hope it will help attract overseas players. On that note, while the BBL may struggle to attract big names for the foreseeable future, I don’t think it’ll have any problems recruiting overseas players that can have a positive impact on the standard of the tournament. There a plenty of overseas players that are desperate for their first taste of franchise cricket, that are also good enough to step up, Ian Cockbain would be an example of that this season.
Scheduling-wise it’s hard to see too much changing on that front, Australia always have a fairly traditional summer schedule, with the big test series for the summer often being played in and around Christmas, which clashes with the BBL. Hence a few big names are always likely to miss out, to counter this I think up to four overseas players should be allowed in a playing XI. It’s highly likely that quite a few teams wouldn’t utilise this but I think some more proactive/organised teams would. For example, the Stars signed six overseas players this season, despite a lot of challenges of doing so in the current cricketing climate. To incentivise teams to be smarter with overseas signings and recruitment in general, the BBL could punish teams for failing over a longer period of time. For example if a team is consistently bad over a 3–5 season period, financial punishment through reduced salary caps or perhaps more extreme; getting kicked from the league if there’s a failure to meet a certain win percentage over a longer period of time.
In my view the BBL would benefit from having some sort of a draft every 2–3 years just to give things a refresh, right now the top three has consisted of the same three teams in the last two seasons, the other teams need to close a gap and it’ll be difficult to do so with no restrictions on retentions.
Personally I wouldn’t even be too strict with the number of retentions allowed, let franchises keep 8–10 of their current squad, so playing XI’s might not even change significantly but by doing this at least it gives an opportunity to spice things up a bit. While also allowing for more data-savvy franchises to make the most of any opportunities that are presented them.
Finally it’s important to note that the BBL will never slip off the face of the earth. It’s Australia’s premier t20 competition and as long as that continues to be the case, it’ll remain an attractive option to a lot of overseas players, particularly for players in the UK as they look to ditch the colder winter climate for some summer sun in Australia. However, failing to do any of things mentioned above will lead to a complete stagnation of the league and other franchise leagues will continue to take over. The BBL should be aiming to be one of the premier t20 competitions, like it was when it originally formed, more recently it hasn’t met those standards in my opinion.
That concludes this summary of the BBL, thanks for reading!