The BBL's biggest off-contract names eyeing new deals
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen Big Bash clubs restricted by an embargo on player contracts but that hasn't stopped the speculation swirling around some of the competition's biggest names
23 June 2020, 11:54 AM AEST
With the KFC BBL's player contracting embargo due to lift next month, there are a number of key players that are still without homes for BBL|10.
Fixtures for the competition – which will again have a 61-game, full home-and-away season – are set to be released in mid-July to coincide with the end of the contracting period, while various innovations to the playing conditions are still up for discussion.
An added wrinkle to list management at the clubs is the uncertainty over how the summer's international schedule will play out given disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with flow-on effects from the expected postponement of the T20 World Cup likely to cause some changes to the schedule published by Cricket Australia last month.
That has made committing to the BBL difficult for Australia's multi-format international stars, with the likes of David Warner and Pat Cummins already expressing a desire to wait until much closer to the season start before committing to any club, while Mitch Starc has rarely been sighted in the competition in recent times.
Both Steve Smith and Josh Hazlewood played for the Sydney Sixers at the back end of last summer's BBL, and would be keen to suit up again if the schedule allows.
The rising star of Marnus Labuschagne presents an interesting conundrum for the player and the Brisbane Heat. Labuschagne, who isn't under contract for BBL|10, has evolved into a Test and one-day star for Australia in the past 12 months, and would have his eye on becoming a three-format player.
If the T20 World Cup is postponed, a strong showing in the BBL this summer could be the springboard he needs to force his way into the national T20 side in the next 12 months.
The landscape for international signings is far less clear amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with last summer's international star Haris Rauf just today confirming he's contracted the virus.
As it stands, only the Brisbane Heat's Tom Banton and Sydney Sixers' Tom Curran – both English – are contracted to clubs for BBL|10.
Ahead of the end of the domestic contracting embargo, here are some key Aussies that are currently free agents ahead of the landmark tenth season of BBL.
Last summer was a breakout season for the fast bowler and he will have high expectations on his shoulders this year in all forms. Agar played 12 matches for the Adelaide Strikers last summer with 17 wickets at an average of 21.47, making him the club's third-most prolific bowler behind veteran Peter Siddle and international star Rashid Khan. But he would be looking to improve on an economy rate of 8.90. His efforts across all formats earned him the Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year award last summer and the 23-year-old could would be hot property if his head could be turned from the Strikers.
The chances of Alex Carey leaving the Adelaide Strikers would appear remote, but Australia's limited-overs gloveman is off contract, which is likely to interest enough clubs to make an enquiry or two. Carey showed his international calibre game at the top of the order in this format a few seasons back, but Strikers coach Jason Gillespie has played him in a middle-order role that more closely replicates his position with the Australian side. Having proved he can do that, it would not be unreasonable for Carey to covet a return to the top of the order, which could be the carrot other clubs use to lure him away from Adelaide. With Tim Paine having wicketkeeping duties for the national Test team locked up, Carey can expect to be available for the bulk of the season while the Test team is in action, but might be a factor to consider before putting a multi-year deal on the table.
Another breakout star last summer, Nathan Ellis is sure to attract plenty of interest from throughout the BBL. He's a priceless commodity in the T20 format: a bona fide death bowler that can tie up an end and take wickets. Nobody who sent down more than 10 'death' overs (overs 15-20) had a better economy rate during that period than Ellis last season, nor bowled more of those overs in BBL|09. He owes much to the Hurricanes and Tasmania set-up after the state gave him his chance last summer, and dominated in the Marsh One-Day Cup to land a BBL deal, then later starred in Shield cricket too. They will hope that faith is repaid as they will no doubt seek to lock up their latest fast bowling sensation on a long-term deal. It was a meteoric rise for the 25-year-old with a tendency to get nearly horizontal in his follow-through, and his best days are yet to come.
Last summer's leading wicket-taker in Sheffield Shield cricket is a smokey for this format – his last T20 action was for the USA in the ICC's America's region finals nearly 12 months ago – and he hasn't featured in the Big Bash since BBL|07. But the 31-year-old has shown he is a bowler improving with age, as his 38 Shield wickets at 20.92 with Queensland last summer showed. An off-season move to Perth and a pace friendly Optus Stadium wicket, could be just what he needs to get back into the BBL.
Peter Handscomb's career could be considered to be at a crossroads this summer, and the former Test, ODI and T20 international batsman will be seeking to reignite his international ambitions this season. Squeezed out of the Australia team in all formats by the return of Steve Smith, he has fallen further down the pecking order by the rise of Labuschagne and was left off CA's national contract list for the year ahead. He's played all 51 of his BBL matches with the Melbourne Stars since making his debut back in BBL|02 so a move away from the green side of Melbourne would be a major change of scenery. But the Stars also have an unenviable record of falling short at the pointy end of the BBL and Handscomb may look to see success elsewhere. If that's the path he takes, there'd be several clubs highly interested in his mix of middle-order batting and wicketkeeping. Last summer was a mixed one in the Big Bash, with 188 runs at 31.33 and a strike rate of 128.76, but his output fell away at the back end of the tournament.
The big question hanging over James Pattinson this summer will be how much Test cricket can he expect to play with India in town. Pattinson is off contract after a two-year deal with the Brisbane Heat that saw him claim 13 wickets at 22.84 and an economy rate of 7.45, and he has been linked with a return to the Melbourne Renegades. His first stint with that club was patchy as he battled his long-standing injury problems (19 wickets at 23.89 and an unflattering economy of 9.20) but his back surgery has given him a new lease on life. Interestingly, when Pattinson signed on to join the Brisbane Heat, the club had as their bowling coach the former Kiwi international Shane Bond, who had also had the same career-saving surgery and had become a close confidante of Pattinson. But before Pattinson arrived, Bond had departed to take a head coach role with the Sydney Thunder and the team from Sydney could also be in the running for the 30-year-old's signature.
Matthew Renshaw has been on the career roller-coaster in the past few years, from the highs of a sudden elevation to the Test team to falling out love with the game and stepping away from the Queensland Bulls last summer to mentally refresh. While his red-ball form has waned, Renshaw has been an improving player in the T20 format, where his spin has also proved handy – he claimed four wickets in nine overs last summer. Behind big-hitters Chris Lynn and Tom Banton, it was Renshaw that smacked the most sixes for the Heat last summer with 13, and he added three fifties in his 14 games. He has been strongly linked with a move away from the Heat already this off-season, with the Adelaide Strikers seen as a probable destination.
Capped back in the winter of 2018 by Australia's T20 outfit but not seen in a national XI since, leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson finds himself on the second rung of the pecking order for Australia in multiple formats; behind Nathan Lyon for the Test outfit and Adam Zampa in limited-overs calculations. Swepson played 10 games for the Heat last season, with nine wickets at 25.22 and an economy of 7.32, holding his own alongside the Heat's Afghanistan imports Mujeeb Ur Rahmann (3 wickets in six games) and Zahir Khan (eight in eight). He's been steadily improving and will be a highly coveted signature, but don't expect anyone to prise him from the Heat's grasp without a fight.