Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Cricket: Growing push to join Australia's Big Bash League

Doubters fear it could undermine ability to make NZ competitions more attractive.

Critics say Australia would never go for New Zealand being in the Big Bash League because there's little gain for them. Photo / Getty Images
Critics say Australia would never go for New Zealand being in the Big Bash League because there's little gain for them. Photo / Getty Images

A few years ago, at the height of the Indian Premier League boom, cricket bosses from South Africa, Australia and little old New Zealand sat down and started formulating a plan for a Southern Hemisphere T20 league - Sanzac, if you will.

Initial enthusiasm was replaced by a series of operational roadblocks.

New Zealand representatives, too, were not hugely impressed by an offer of 10 per cent of the revenue generated from the operation and the possibility that there would not be a team based here. The idea quickly withered on the vine.

New Zealand teams playing in Australian competitions have become an established part of our professional sporting landscape, particularly in basketball and league, but not since the 1970s have New Zealand had any involvement in a transtasman cricket competition. Back then it was a shortlived one-day tournament, with a New Zealand side and the then-five Australian first-class sides.

Prominent cricket insiders now think the time may be ripe to test the feasibility of such a concept. They will point to the success of Super rugby and netball's ANZ Championship, which are partnerships as opposed to New Zealand franchises being invited to join Australian competitions. They will also look to the success of the Breakers in the ANBL and the entrenchment of the Warriors in the NRL and the Phoenix - after a couple of Auckland-based false starts - in the A-League, as indicators of the possibilities.

One argument floated in cricket's upper echelons suggests NZC should push for involvement in Australia's Big Bash League. Players would be exposed to Australia's best short format exponents and it would showcase them in a wider broadcast market. A place on teams in glamour competitions like the Indian Premier League could result.

Auckland's relatively strong performance in the recent Champions League, where they were in contention for the semifinals after beating Pakistan's Sialkot, England's Hampshire and India's Kolkata, is cited as an example. NZC could glean a collective benefit from such an endeavour, especially if they bought a shareholding from Cricket Australia. That would guarantee them a wider revenue stream than is produced by the HRV Cup. Players would benefit because they would get paid more and New Zealand teams could become more attractive to overseas players. At present, because the HRV Cup largely competes with the Big Bash, New Zealand tend to recruit overseas players on the periphery.

"It's a great idea," says player agent Greg Dyer of Essentially Group, whose clients include T20 globetrotter Daniel Vettori.

"You only have to look at how it's benefited those other sports. It's surely just a matter of time before it happens with cricket at a domestic level. Other countries don't take our HRV Cup feed, so our players would get greater exposure from being in the BBL."

Dyer saw the major sticking point being the number of teams that would be involved. He thought two, roughly split along a North Island-South Island divide, would be ideal.

"Australians and New Zealanders would be considered as locals for the whole competition, then you'd have space for a couple of imports in each franchise. Australians could be playing in our sides and Dan [Vettori] might be playing for Brisbane. The HRV becomes rugby's NPC, a feeder competition for a more attractive, more global league.

"At the moment the HRV Cup is lowest on the pecking order. The United States and Dubai will soon have leagues starting and they will be ahead of New Zealand in terms of what they can pay. This way we could have 15-20 players on Big Bash contracts. Not many New Zealanders get such contracts at this stage, only the exceptional ones.

"It would bring more money into the game here. Let's say NZC was offered only a 10 per cent cut. Well, 10 per cent of something is a lot more than what we've got now, which is 100 per cent of nothing."

Doubters say Australia would never go for it because there's little gain for them. NZC would in effect be leeching off a highly successful product in lieu of having an attractive tournament themselves.

"Sure, there wouldn't be as much in it for Australia, but it would still be a more attractive competition," Dyer said.

The country's only genuine fulltime cricket player manager also said there would not be universal acceptance in cricket circles here. He suspects the Players' Association would not be fully supportive, thinking it would cannibalise the ability to make New Zealand's competitions more attractive.

"There will be negatives, but nothing we could not work through."

Northern Districts chief executive David Cooper becomes the new NZC general manager for domestic cricket in January. Such issues form part of his brief.

"This concept makes commercial sense and we should look at such opportunities but perhaps it means getting into Australia in the next five to 10 years. Without knowing Cricket Australia's perspective it is something we'd look at to enhance our own game. The fact the Aces performed - even without a lot of star players - in the Champions League, sent a message to the international market that our domestic teams are a reasonable commodity."

NZC chief executive David White is cautious, given such an endeavour might undermine the HRV Cup.

"The main objective has to be to improve our own competition first and foremost. One option could be using the winning HRV Cup team as NZC's representative. However, my personal view - rather than the board's - is that it would be difficult having a team in the Big Bash. It might devalue our competitions."


The series:
Monday: NZC's "disconnect" with the sport's fans, and is this NZ's worst era?
Tuesday: A damaged brand, and the media's love affair turns sour
Wednesday: A healthy grassroots, but a lack of Maori and Pacific Island engagement
Yesterday: A malfunctioning high-performance set-up
Tomorrow: The 80s legacy, and binning players too young

- NZ Herald

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