It’s been a slow couple of months in the sports world.
Ever since Johnathan Thurston’s NRL grand final heroics on October 4, fans have been starved of on-field action.
Sure, there was Australia’s run to the Rugby World Cup decider, but most games started after midnight, and, as good as Michelle Payne’s Melbourne Cup triumph on Prince Of Penzance was, it was over in three minutes and 23 seconds.
New Zealand’s visit for three Tests promised a lot but missed the mark – bar three days at the Adelaide Oval – due to a mixture of flat pitches and their poor bowling, and the West Indies were pitiful in Hobart last week.
We got a couple of days of good golf at the Australian Open, where Matt Jones held off Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth, but the two other major tournaments flopped and the A-League hasn’t delivered too many highlights, leaving it to the NBL to fly the flag – something they have done well.
Whether it’s a shift in attitude or just a quiet summer is unknown for now, but one thing is for sure: sports fans have craved the arrival of the Big Bash League like never before.
The 2015-16 edition begins at Spotless Stadium on Thursday night, as the Sydney Thunder (featuring the likes of Jacques Kallis, Michael Hussey and Shane Watson) take on a Sydney Sixers side bursting at the seams with Australian internationals.
The stands will be full and approximately one million Aussies will tune in on Network Ten. Not bad for a competition that has just turned five.
“It’s been our best lead-in to a season,” Big Bash League chief Anthony Everard told The New Daily.
“I think it’s fair to say that the anticipation is even greater than we thought. This is, without doubt, our strongest on-field line-up.
“We have some of the most exciting international cricketers in the world – the likes of Kevin Pietersen, Kumar Sangakkara, Jacques Kallis and Chris Gayle.
“Brad Haddin and Shane Watson are going to play a full season of BBL – then you throw in Mike Hussey and Brad Hogg and there’s the younger guys as well.
“There’s always one young player who makes a name for themselves and I’m sure that’ll be the case again.”
Often those young players go on to represent Australia in various formats – just ask the likes of Nathan Lyon, James Faulkner, Glenn Maxwell, Mitch Marsh and Joe Burns, who all benefitted from the exposure and experience the Big Bash League provides.
The outstanding players are just one of many elements to the successful formula that is the Big Bash League.
The competition’s timing – running almost exclusively during school holidays, with matches on almost every night for five weeks – comes at a time when people aren’t time-poor.
Tickets are affordable, matches are often close and then there’s the well-produced free-to-air television coverage on Network Ten.
Ricky Ponting’s cricket nous clearly hasn’t left him and he is the standout in a commentary team that includes the dry humour of Mark Waugh and luminaries such as Adam Gilchrist, Damien Fleming, Viv Richards and Andrew Flintoff.
Hosts Andy Maher, Mark Howard and Mel McLaughlin do a smooth job of keeping things ticking over in a fun, light-hearted and refreshing broadcast – unlike the Channel Nine formula that is going stale quickly.
“It (moving from Foxtel to Network Ten) has been really important,” Mr Everard said.
“Our average audiences on Fox were around 250,000. The year we moved to Network Ten, that increased to over 900,000. 946,000 watched games on average last season.
“The way Ten broadcast the games is very, very consistent with everything we are trying to do. They make sure there’s a strong focus on entertainment in addition to the great cricket.
“You can just tell, the commentators are having the time of their life. They are genuinely excited about what they are doing and that comes through in the broadcast.”
Crowds rose 20 per cent last year and more growth is predicted by Mr Everard in the 2015-16 season.
Yet sceptics remain – purists who argue the Twenty20 format is merely hit-and-giggle and instantly forgettable.
Mr Everard, unsurprisingly, disagrees, but says all formats can co-exist and that many of the Big Bash League’s decisions relate to their strategic view – attracting new fans to the sport.
“The Big Bash League is part of the ongoing evolution of cricket,” he said.
“There’s absolutely always going to be a role for Test cricket. It’s a fantastic product. We saw the support for one-day cricket at the World Cup.
“We’ve got a formula in our schedule that seems to work really well – Test cricket by day and Big Bash by night (in summer). They sit reasonably comfortably alongside each other.
“It probably took people a couple of years for people to get their heads around that but certainly now, there’s a much higher level of acceptance.
“If you are (a sceptic), I’d encourage you to get along to a game or tune in. It’s some of the most exciting cricket you’ll see.
“The creativity, power and skill of batsmen, the athleticism of the fielders and the variety of bowlers … if you appreciate the skills of cricket – what you actually see in three hours is phenomenal.”
There’s no argument from us.