There’s little doubt that Big Bash cricket has been a huge hit with a younger generation of fans since its inception eight seasons ago.
But for year nine, the popcorn seemed in need of some sweeteners.
In Big Bash edition eight last summer there was a noticeable lack of International star power and the fixture was drawn out to the point where momentum was lost.
This year South African legend AB de Villiers is in town – well, Brisbane at least –and Heat is backing him to help revitalise the competition.
Tuesday’s first game between Heat and Sydney Thunder in Queensland marks a more compact season that also includes an expanded finals series.
Organisers believe the Australian competition lost out to the shorter Bangladesh Premier League last summer, but this year Steve Smith will feature for Sydney Sixers, while Dale Steyn (Melbourne Stars), Alex Hales (Sydney Thunder) and David Miller (Hobart Hurricanes) are among the other new big-name internationals.
De Villiers will be available for Heat from January 14.
“Yep, absolutely (he can reinvigorate it). With a couple of guys, not just AB but Dale Steyn and a few of the guys,” Heat captain Chris Lynn told AAP.
I think with the international signings not only Brisbane have got, but all the other franchises, it’s going to be exciting.
“It’s a little shorter, jam-packed and action-packed.
“We took a hit last year for the Big Bash. We just got a little bit too greedy. And the fans were wanting footy season to come around.
“Whereas now I think the fans are going to be wanting more.”
Brisbane will enter the tournament as one of the favourites on the back of de Villiers, while English recruit Tom Banton will also be dangerous.
Defending champions Melbourne Renegades have also improved their squad, with Shaun Marsh joining and Aaron Finch and Marcus Harris likely to be more available.
Under the competition’s new structure, the top five will make the finals with the top two teams getting an initial second chance.
That should help break the curse of the minor premiers, where the top-ranked team has missed the decider in six of the past seven seasons.
The regular season will also be complete within the summer school holidays, as opposed to last year when it dragged into mid-February.
“The ability for the competition to make changes on the back of pretty strong feedback from fans, players and broadcast partners … is huge,” BBL boss Alistair Dobson said.
“We’ve learned from some of the issues from last year, but also some of the things that went well.
“And we think the finals is going to have that huge crescendo to the season. Add that to the players coming into the competition [and] we think it is set up really well.”
HOW THE TEAMS LINE UP IN BIG BASH 2019
Key Ins: Harry Conway, Phil Salt, Cameron White.
Key Outs: Colin Ingram, Ben Laughlin.
Player to watch: Salt isn’t the biggest-name import, but he could be one of the hardest hitting. The top-order batsman goes at a strike-rate of 154 on the global circuit.
Could have a tough run with Travis Head, Alex Carey, Michael Neser and Peter Siddle all likely to go in and out of the squad. Still have the talent to challenge though, with likes of Rashid Khan.
Key Ins: AB de Villiers, Zahir Khan, Tom Banton, Ben Laughlin, Cameron Gannon.
Key Outs: Brendon McCullum, Brendan Doggett, Alex Ross.
Player to watch: AB de Villiers will only play half the competition but one of the world’s best bats has the potential to light up the BBL when he arrives in January.
Narrowly missed the finals last year and have replaced McCullum with Banton and de Villiers. Among the favourites.
Key Ins: Scott Boland, David Miller.
Key Outs: Johan Botha, Tymal Mills, Tim Paine, Jofra Archer.
Player to watch: The form of Last summer’s player of the tournament D’Arcy Short will be crucial for the Hurricanes, with Matthew Wade unavailable at the start. Archer’s rise means he’ll be unavailable for the tournament while on England duties. It could place a strain on their bowling attack and make for a tougher campaign.
Key Ins: Shaun Marsh, Richard Gleeson.
Key Outs: Chris Tremain, Cameron White, Usman Shinwari.
Player to watch: Will Sutherland has long been floated as a future star, but given he is now fit and free of under-19 commitments, this could be his breakthrough summer. The Renegades’ title-winning squad has arguably got stronger with Marsh added, and Aaron Finch and Marcus Harris likely to be available more this season. Will be tough to beat.
Key Ins: Dale Steyn, Hilton Cartwright, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Brown.
Key Outs: Dwayne Bravo, Michael Beer, Travis Dean, Scott Boland, Jackson Bird.
Player to watch: Glenn Maxwell will be eyeing a massive BBL on his return to cricket. At his best, he’s one of the most dangerous in the league. The Stars have huge player turnover after they realistically should have won the final last year. South African quick Steyn is a huge import but is likely only available for the first six games.
BBL08: Eighth (wooden spoon)
Key ins: Chris Jordan, Liam Livingstone, Fawad Ahmed, Kurtis Patterson.
Key outs: Shaun Marsh, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Hilton Cartwright, David Willey, Michael Klinger.
Player to watch: Cam Green. The 20-year-old is already being touted as Australia’s next great all-rounder. Won’t bowl due to back issues but will still bat at No.6. The three-time champion collected the wooden spoon last season, and they could be in for another tough year. Quicks Jason Behrendorff (back) and AJ Tye (elbow) are out also of action.
Key Ins: Steve Smith, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.
Key Outs: Joe Denly, Peter Nevill.
Player to watch: Josh Philippe showed signs of his potential with two half-centuries last season. This year could be a big one for him. The additions of Smith and Hazlewood (fitness pending) mean that they could be poised to strike late in the season.
Key Ins: Alex Ross, Alex Hales, Chris Morris, Tanveer Sangha.
Key Outs: Shane Watson, Fawad Ahmed, Kurtis Patterson, Jos Buttler.
Player to watch: Hales takes Jos Buttler’s spot as Thunder’s English power hitter, with the latter away on international duty. He’s a more-than-capable replacement. Has the bonus of finally having Usman Khawaja available, but it will be a case of whether its young stars can rise again.