BBL draft plans revived amid divided opinions
Overseas player draft is back on the table for BBL11 with CA hopeful it will streamline recruitment and help attract big names, but concerns it will devalue the league have been raised
18 March 2021, 10:26 AM AEST
Leading Big Bash figures remain split on the merit of introducing an overseas player draft ahead of next season's competition, as Cricket Australia restarts its push for a major overhaul of international recruitment.
Three-time KFC BBL champion Moises Henriques, the current Sydney Sixers captain, has warned that a draft could threaten the league being regarded as a "fair dinkum competition", stressing club identity and fan loyalty must be prioritised over the publicity a draft could generate.
But David Hussey, who played alongside and has since coached some of the league's most iconic players at the Melbourne Stars, believes streamlining the recruitment of international players will be of major benefit for the BBL.
Hussey even believes the league should consider holding a bumper draft for local players in which teams would retain only a few of their existing squad members.
CA believes an overseas player draft, plans for which were abandoned last year due to the pandemic but are now firmly back on the table, would help attract the best possible international talent next summer.
Yet Henriques, who has led the Sixers to the past two BBL titles and sits on the Australian Cricketers' Association's board of directors, fears a draft could force teams to part ways with players that supporters have built an affinity towards.
While it is expected there will be a provision to allow teams to retain their previous overseas talent (it seems likely the Adelaide Strikers, for example, would be allowed to keep fan favourite Rashid Khan should they want to), clubs may be forced to make tough decisions.
The Sixers, for instance, have Tom Curran under contract for another season and may have to use a draft pick to keep him. Whether they would then also be able to retain James Vince, who has played the past three seasons for the club and been an important part of their back-to-back BBL crowns, is less certain.
"There is a lot of noise about players hating change. I am open to ideas, definitely," Henriques told cricket.com.au. "We can't always be shutting down change because something could actually improve the game and take it to places we haven't seen before, just like T20 did.
"(But) I do believe free agency for clubs, especially for franchises in their early stages, is quite important to fans who might follow teams because of certain players.
"If you really want to build that love for each club, and especially for us, we'd love to have first dibs on someone like James Vince and Tom Curran, who we see as Sydney Sixers players and a lot of our fans feel the same way as well. I feel like that is important.
"We'd love to let the players decide where they want to go.
"But if it goes another way, for the sake of trying to create a bit of publicity for a draft or an auction or whatever it might be, do those short-term publicity events outweigh the long-term (benefit) of building up club culture and fandom?
"I don't know the answer to that.
"We did try three new rules this year (in BBL10), so we're not always against change. It's just about how far we're willing to take this before this whole competition is just a trial run, rather than an actual fair dinkum competition."
Another bone of contention for clubs and the league is the fluid nature of the international schedule and how much of the tournament overseas players will be available for.
The Brisbane Heat's Darren Lehmann, who has coached in the BBL, the IPL and will take the reins of the Northern Superchargers for England's new 'Hundred' tournament, told cricket.com.au last year that overseas player recruitment in the BBL "is the toughest I've come across".
The uncertainty over whether bio-secure bubbles and strict quarantine for international arrivals into Australia, which were factors in Curran, Tom Banton and Imran Tahir all pulling out of BBL10 stints, will still be requirements next season is a further challenge.
Michael Klinger was given a rude introduction to the turbulence of the overseas player market when Usman Shinwari and Faheem Ashraf backed out of deals less than a fortnight before his coaching debut with the Melbourne Renegades in BBL09.
And Hussey encountered a similar roadblock when the Stars' high-profile recruit Jonny Bairstow was recalled to England's Test squad only a week before BBL10 got underway.
How a draft system would ensure equity if players pull out of stints at the last minute is another concern for league officials to address.
"I hope it comes in next season," Hussey said of an overseas draft. "It just makes life so much easier if everyone gets an equal selection.
"People don't realise how much hard work and late-night phone-calls goes into actually signing overseas players.
"Availability is the key issue, some players are available for five games, others are available for a whole season – which is more beneficial for your team? Sponsors (also) have a say.
"So if you have a draft in place, all the work is pretty much done for you. Everything is streamlined and just much easier, and you're also attracting the best players in the world.
"And it's a nice spectacle for TV and the sponsors. That's what I'm in favour of."
Hussey wants to go a step further and have the league look at a draft for local players that would see a radical movement of players between clubs.
That would loosely follow the IPL model of the 'mega-auction' in which teams retain only a handful of players and have to re-build their squad from the bottom-up, a drastic departure from the BBL's status quo which currently sees big-name Australian players seldom leave their existing teams.
"It provides a more balanced playing field – I'd love to see it happen," said Hussey, who is also an assistant coach at the Kolkata Knight Riders. "Whether each team could retain four players and the rest go into the draft – I reckon that'd be brilliant.
"It means you're playing in a different environment and hearing from different voices and seeing different strategies.
"You'd probably have to fast track to start in 2024, no one could be signed past that. If they're on a longer deal, they'd have to be one of the four players retained.
"From a fans' point of view, if you can still retain four of your best players, you're keeping the core aspect of your team anyway."
More details on the draft are expected in the coming weeks, with clubs currently unable to sign (or re-sign) players while a contracting embargo is in place.