As the battle for the biggest names in international cricket heats up, there are at least five KFC BBL clubs ready to throw their hats in the ring for the likes of Morne Morkel, Andre Russell, Ben Stokes and Adil Rashid.
Three clubs already have two imports squared away for BBL|08 – Adelaide Strikers (Colin Ingram and Rashid Khan), Brisbane Heat (Brendon McCullum and Shadab Khan) and Hobart Hurricanes (Tymal Mills and Jofra Archer) – however they can't be wholly discounted from the mix due to the international replacement player rule, which the Heat used to good effect with the acquisition of Pakistan leg-spinner Yasir Shah last summer.
The other current vagary is whether, due to the possibility of an expanded tournament, clubs will be allocated additional international spot/s in their roster, but for now we'll focus on the five clubs that are all understood to have at least one place vacant for overseas talent: Melbourne Stars, Melbourne Renegades, Sydney Sixers, Sydney Thunder and Perth Scorchers.
The Stars bid farewell to long-term England import Luke Wright and the retiring Kevin Pietersen, while Renegades international Dwayne Bravo is believed to be among those out of contract and shopping around.
Bravo was joined by Mohammad Nabi, then Keiron Pollard in red in BBL|07, while the Sixers fielded Sam Billings and Jason Roy for much of the tournament before they left on England commitments, and were replaced by compatriot Joe Denly and West Indies allrounder Carlos Brathwaite.
The Sixers will be reeling from losing Nic Maddinson to the Stars in BBL|08's first big off-season move, and will be desperate to replace him with a high-quality, big-hitting batsman.
The Thunder’s international contingent for BBL|07 featured Kiwi Mitchell McClenaghan and England’s Jos Buttler and James Vince.
Perth elected to begin their BBL|07 campaign with just one international – Englishman David Willey, who was replaced by countryman Tim Bresnan late in the season during England’s ODI series against Australia.
Morkel to continue career in T20 leagues
South African quick Morne Morkel announced on Monday the upcoming Test series against Australia would be his international cricket swansong.
The 33-year-old veteran of 83 Tests, 117 one-day internationals and 44 T20 internationals revealed the news in Durban on Monday, citing family commitments as the main reason behind the decision.
But with Morkel confirming his interest in continuing to play in T20 leagues around the world – and given his Australian connection, with wife Roz Kelly part of Network 10’s BBL coverage for the past two summers – he looms as an ideal candidate for Big Bash clubs looking to bolster their ranks with an overseas paceman who won’t be drawn away on international commitments.
"Cricket is what I love," Morkel told reporters in Durban on Monday. "Playing for the Proteas is something very special (but) family comes first.
"For clarity's sake I've got a young family, I have a foreign wife. I still feel great mentally and physically and yes, I will still be playing in other leagues around the world."
While the Thunder are understood to be looking elsewhere, and the Stars are believed to be after an international allrounder and a spin-bowler, Morkel could prove a nice fit at the Sixers, Scorchers or Renegades.
England stars in hot demand
Morkel won’t be the only international catching the attention of the BBL clubs.
The International Cricket Council’s Future Tours Programme is in a state of flux with the proposed introduction of a Test and ODI championship, but currently suggests England’s stars could be in high demand by BBL clubs, with a two-month gap in their calendar in December-January before a slated three-format tour of the Caribbean in February.
Several clubs have reportedly made enquiries about controversial allrounder Ben Stokes, who last appeared in the Big Bash for the Renegades in BBL|04 following his Test debut in the 2013-14 Ashes series.
England's white-ball specialists Buttler, Willey, Billings and Roy, as well as limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan, who has recent history with the Thunder, are among other potential targets.
The decision of England's Adil Rashid to turn his back on first-class cricket to focus on the white-ball formats also makes him an attractive proposition; the leg-spinner has BBL form after impressing with the Strikers in BBL|05, and has reportedly attracted interest from the Stars, who also have ODI leggie Adam Zampa under contract for next season.
Clubs chasing Dre Russ
The return of Andre Russell will also draw plenty of attention following his return from a drugs ban on January 31.
Russell was partway through a two-year deal with the Sydney Thunder when he was banned for one year following a doping whereabouts rule violation.
There was no implication Russell had ever used performance-enhancing drugs but the two-time World T20 winner was found to have registered three whereabouts filing failures in 2015, which constituted a failed drugs test under World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rules.
The Thunder are keen to see Russell return to Sydney, but are understood to be just one of several clubs chasing the dynamic allrounder.
Internationals roster spots for BBL|08
Adelaide Strikers: Confirmed: Colin Ingram (SA), Rashid Khan (Afg)
Brisbane Heat: Confirmed: Brendon McCullum (NZ), Shadab Khan (Pakistan)
Hobart Hurricanes: Confirmed: Jofra Archer (WI/ENG), Tymal Mills (ENG)
Melbourne Renegades: Unconfirmed. BBL|07: Dwayne Bravo, Mohammad Nabi, Keiron Pollard (all uncontracted)
Melbourne Stars: Unconfirmed: BBL|07: Kevin Pietersen (retired), Luke Wright (uncontracted)
Perth Scorchers: Unconfirmed. BBL|07: David Willey (ENG)
Sydney Sixers: Unconfirmed. BBL|07: Sam Billings, Jason Roy (both uncontracted)
Sydney Thunder: Unconfirmed. BBL|07: Jos Buttler, Mitch McClenaghan (both uncontracted)