Get ready for the Mega Bash!

Cricket Australia is excited to announce an extended Big Bash League – called the “Mega Bash” – to be played from 2018/19.

The competition includes four new franchises – Canberra, the Gold Coast, Central Coast and Geelong – with the 12 teams to play each other twice over six months (22 games each) with an extended six team finals series. The WBBL will run simultaneously with the same number of teams.

“We know how popular the Big Bash is,” said an anonymous CA spokesperson. “What do you do when people like something? Give them even more! I know the new format will soon rival the AFL and NRL in popularity.”

Starting in October 2018, the Mega Bash will run until February 2019, meaning some big changes in the traditional summer format.

The Matador Cup will be axed and the Sheffield Shield reduced to one round (15 games and a final) between August and September, played on suburban and country grounds. Australia will play just two Test matches, the traditional Boxing Day and New Year’s matches in Melbourne and Sydney. There will be no one-day internationals either, allowing the best local and international players to play in the Mega Bash inbetween the two Tests.

“How good will it be to see Davey Warney and Stevey Smith wallop ’em for the Sixers in prime time? I’ll have a nice bucket of KFC all ready for that one!”

Asked how this would affect the welfare of long-form cricket, the CA spokesperson was unconcerned. “Look, we’ve kept the profitable Test matches, isn’t that enough? They should be grateful we kept the Shield around, even though the stupid thing doesn’t make any money!”

The new Mega Bash has created a bidding war between Nine and Ten, a prospect Cricket Australia is loving.

“The daily truckloads of cash Nine are parking outside headquarters is awfully tempting. Ten better lift their game, free boxsets of The Simpsons seasons 1-12 won’t be enough in the long run.”


Mundine to star in “I’m a Celebrity…”

Multi-sport ‘superstar’ athlete Anthony Mundine has been revealed as the latest celebrity in I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of Here for 2017.

But there’s a catch.

“Most contestants are voted out of the jungle until the last celebrity stands,” said a Channel 10 spokesman. “We’ll be doing our best to make sure Mundine stays in the jungle permanently!”

As part of the deal, Mundine will be guaranteed lifetime victory starting from the 2017 edition and all future I’m a Celebrity series’. The prizemoney will be divided between the losing contestants’ chosen charities.

“It works beautifully! Being the winner every year will appeal to Mundine’s monstorously delusional ego. He’ll be so full of himself, he won’t care that have no plans to release him. Ordinary Aussies only have to tolerate his racist crap for a couple of months on the show. Then he’ll be cut off in the jungle, with only the sound of his own voice for company, even after the show is eventually cancelled. Everybody wins.”

Mundine was excited by this new challenge.

“Bruz, I’m the king of rugby league, the king of boxing and I’ll quickly be the king of the jungle. No racist selectors to hold The Man back and deny his dreams.”

Hosts Dr Chris Brown and Julia Morris have been encouraged to reserve the most disgusting trials for Mundine.

“Watching Mundine eat a dead spider or fresh elephant poop is a guaranteed ratings winner,” said the Channel 10 spokesman.

Nine CEO slams “selfish” Aussies

Channel Nine CEO Hugh Marks has slammed the Australian ODI team for their “selfish” comeback against New Zealand today.

“Nine broadcast eight goddamn one-dayers this summer, and they were all boring as bat****! As soon as the selfish p***** leave the country, they decide to play a decent game!”

Marks protested that Nine has looked after the Aussie team and they should be more grateful.

“Tubbs, Slats, Heals, Clarkey and the boys have been loyal cheerleaders for the Aussie team and constantly reminding fans they used to play for Australia. We even punted that flog Brayshaw – and brought back Bill Lawry – so people would like us again. You’d think the Aussies could repay us with a few close games. But nooooo!”

An angry Marks even took shots at Channel Ten. “I bet those bastards at Ten helped out too, forcing the games to be boring so everyone would watch their stupid Big Bash! The f****** even had Boof (Darren Lehmann) as a commentator! Pack of cheats!”

When asked if Nine could telecast the rest of the Chappell-Hadlee series, Marks said it wasn’t possible.

“We’re contractually obligated to show  afternoon repeats of House Husbands and Married at First Sight, so we can’t show the cricket sadly. At least we have the riveting Twenty20 series against Sri Lanka to look forward to, even though nobody decent’s actually playing.”

BBL06: The Good, The Bad, The Bizarre

The Good: Perth win three from five

Perth collected a third title from five attempts against the Sixers in the Big Final, an incredible strike rate for a competition just six years old (cue the Brian Fantana “60% of the time…” jokes).

BBL06 was one of the best, with over a million fans attending game, plenty of sellouts and big ratings for Channel Ten. With Australia belting an unpredictable Pakistan 7-1 across Test and ODIs, the BBL injected some spark into the summer and overshadowed the Australian Open.

It was one the closest competitions, with two games separating first (Perth Scorchers 5-3) and last (Sydney Thunder 3-5). The Big Final was an anticlimax, with Perth cruising to a nine-wicket win, chasing the Sixers’ 142 inside 16 overs. It was so easy that parochial Perth fans had some fun with cult hero Nathan Lyon, chanting “Garry, Garry, Garry!” when GOAT bowled.

Michael Klinger and Mitchell Johnson were the statistical standouts for Perth. Klinger scored 334 runs from 10 matches (averaging 37.11), including 71 not out from 49 balls in the Big Final, while Johnson took 13 wickets from nine matches (averaging 15.46). His 3/3 in the semi-final destroyed the Melbourne Stars. There were even rumours of a Twenty20 international comeback, quickly denied by Johnson.

The Bad: Nevill’s woes

Poor Peter Nevill.

Starting the summer as the first-choice Test wicketkeeper, Nevill was dropped after the Hobart capitulation for Matthew Wade. Despite 179 not out against Tasmania, he was unable to force his way back in, seemingly on the scrapheap (some might say Wade’s only decent contribution has been the “Nice Garry” phenomenon).

Nevill’s summer got far worse when his Melbourne Renegades played Adelaide Strikers on January 16. A Brad Hodge pull shot went awry when the bat flew from his hands and the handle striking Nevill (who was busy watching the ball) in the face. Luckily it missed his eye, hitting his cheek, but he was still left with a nasty bruise. That was the end of Nevill’s BBL campaign, leaving his immediate future in doubt as the second half of the Sheffield Shield begins.

The Bizarre: Howie’s unintentional “coaching”

Wiring up players to talk to commentators has been a part of Twenty20 for a long time. It’s a good way for fans to hear from the players (and probably a better option than a reporter sticking a microphone in a player’s face after they get out).

The January 18 game between the Strikers and Thunder showed the unintentionally bad side of the technology.

Commentator Mark Howard was talking to Hodge and mentioned that Ben Laughlin had the wood over Thunder batsman Shane Watson (insert your own Shane Watson joke here…). Funnily enough, Hodge put Laughlin on next over. While he didn’t get Watson out (Jake Lehmann got him), the conversation caught the attention of Cricket Australia.

According to the Fox Sports website, “Cricket Australia’s integrity unit is looking into the matter further to ensure the comments made during the broadcast did not jeopardise the integrity of last night’s match,” a CA spokesperson said on Thursday.

While betting and match fixing has been a huge issue in the game, Mark Howard’s intentions were not malicious. Though it will make commentators think twice about what they say to players.

A game of cricket broke out…

Friday night’s North Melbourne v Hawthorn T20 game in Tasmania (Ricky’s Biggest Game of Cricket) was meant to be a hit-and-giggle fundraiser for the Ricky Ponting Foundation, raising crucial awareness for cancer.

Live streamed on the Cricket Australia website and app, the game featured past and present Kangaroos and Hawks players – including Jarryd Roughead, recently given the all-clear to return to AFL after his cancer battle. To round out the teams, Ponting and Peter Siddle played for North and the Bowlologist himself, Damien Fleming (while he only bowled one over of off-spin, he did score 22 runs), represented the Hawks, with Tim Paine and George Bailey guest “umpires”.

Amongst all the goodwill, a decent game of cricket broke out, with Hawthorn posting 174 from 20 overs (a score to rival some of the better BBL games this summer) and North chasing it down in the last over with three wickets left – Siddle belting Hawks four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson for two sixes to win the game.

While the standard of the AFL players’ cricketing skills varied (Roos veteran Mick Martyn is comfortably the worst bowler since Mark Taylor, with a mixture of double bouncers, triple bouncers and ugly full tosses), some players shined: Luke Hodge (40), Grant Birchall (26) and Jack Gunston (26) top-scored for the Hawks, while Isaac Smith (2/9) opened the bowling with some decent left arm swingers. For North, Boomer Harvey looked comfortable making 27 and Leigh Colbert scored 25.

The obvious star was Ponting. Technically, he was out three times early, but some “charitable” umpiring from Paine and Bailey saved him. When Ponting got in his stride, it was easy to forget he hadn’t played since 2013. His 33-ball 62 (with six fours, four sixes and a strike rate of nearly 200) was a joy to watch and put North on track for victory.

Cricket Australia did a fine job with the coverage, with Mark Howard – dedicated to giving fans the best view possible – commentating from the slip cordon at one point. While that cosy relationship is unlikely to transfer to more serious cricket , it was an interesting approach (I wonder how many wanted to secretly see Howie cop one in the field?). Incredibly, this supposedly light-hearted charity game was more entertaining than Australia’s recent ODI romp against a hopeless Pakistan.

For more details about the Ricky Pointing foundation, see the link below.

Are the Auckland Nines worth it?

Next weekend (February 4-5) is the fourth Auckland Nines tournament. While meant to be a fun way to open the season, others are not convinced.

Commentator/Swedish Chef look-a-like/five-year-plan implementer Phil Gould is a vocal opponent, saying he doesn’t care about it and injury risk is a concern, labelling it as a “money-making venture” (of course, his employer Channel Nine are such pure clean skins who put the welfare of the game above their own ratings).

So are the Auckland Nines worth it?

Yes they are.

While the Nines doesn’t have the pure fun of the World Sevens, which featured NSWRL clubs and international teams in a massive tournament, it’s still pretty good.

For footy fans, the Auckland Nines is the first taste of footy since the previous year’s grand final (unless you count the Four Nations); after four months without footy, it’s a fun welcome back to the new season. It also allows the NRL to experiment with new rules. If they work, fantastic. If they don’t, then no big deal. There’s also the “entertainment” of the interesting jersey designs. Some are decent, others are horrendous.

One of the big criticisms is the lack of big name players strips the tournament of any real appeal. Does it really matter? It’s an opportunity for fringe players to get big game experience and soak in the atmosphere. With teams playing two of their three pool games on day one, clubs who choose not to send their big names will be out of contention by Saturday evening. No harm, no foul.

Another criticism is the inclusion of retired players, with Ruben Wiki (Warriors) joining previous veterans Brad Fittler and Braith Anasta (Sydney Roosters), Steve Menzies (Manly), Ken Nagas and Jason Croker (Canberra), to name a few. Cynics would say this demeans the tournament’s credibility and is a pure publicity stunt. It’s not like these veterans are charity cases, they’ve all taken the tournament seriously and done pretty well. I imagine Ruben Wiki will make a positive impact for the Warriors.

Another big plus of the Nines is the exposure for women’s rugby league, with the Jillaroos and Silver Ferns playing a three-match series.

For teams who take it seriously, are the Nines decent preparation for the real thing?

North Queensland won the first tournament in 2014 and were NRL premiers the following year, beating Brisbane in the Nines final and the 2015 grand final. Souths followed their 2014 premiership with the 2015 Nines title. Parramatta’s win last year led to a strong start in the premiership before the men in suits destroyed their season and the Nines title was stripped.

The Nines have been a success and is unlikely to be going anywhere. So if you want to watch it, go for it. If not, do something else that weekend and wait for round one of the proper footy in March.

So what was the point of that?

After an intriguing Test series against South Africa and Pakistan – where Australia verged from feckin’ awful to quite decent – Australia played an unremarkable ODI series against Pakistan. Australia’s 4-1 margin wasn’t the problem (Australia beat India last summer 4-1 in an entertaining series, with both teams passing 300 four times), it was the ease of Australia’s wins (by 92 runs, seven wickets, 86 runs and 57 runs) that was the problem. Up against a brilliant Big Bash League 06, it was hard to get excited watching Australia flog a terrible Pakistan again.

Recently, Kevin Pietersen criticised Cricket Australia for pulling star players from BBL commitments and he’s got a point. It’s ludicrous to watch Adam Zampa doing nothing on the sidelines during the first three ODI’s when he could be released to play actual cricket for the Stars.

Test cricket has the balance right; squad members who aren’t in the first XI are sent back to Shield duties, rather than running drinks for five days. It gives local players priceless opportunities as sub fielders (like Mickey Edwards and his beautiful hair).

If it’s not a World Cup year, it’s hard to get excited about one day cricket. Australia invariably bully their way to big wins at home (the poor old Black Caps, who made the last World Cup final, were monstered 3-0 late last year), or crumble overseas. Cricket Australia have made their feelings on the domestic version clear, shovelling it in October where it’s forgotten in the aftermath of the footy finals.

The Big Bash is a behemoth. Deservedly so. Huge crowds, exciting cricket and Ten does a fine job with the coverage (even looking past the regular promos for I’m a has been local celebrity stuck in the jungle and desperate for attention). The BBL is pitched perfectly in the Christmas to Australia Day holiday period, allowing families to attend and wide-eyed kids to enjoy the game without worrying about missing bedtime. It’s wonderful to be able to watch cricket every night.

So what’s the answer? Moving the ODIs to early November – and reducing them to three games – is a good start. Playing the series against Australia’s earliest Test opponent (for example, South Africa) would help the tourists get some quality cricket under their belts. It may give the Matador Cup more relevance, as form in that comp would aide Australian selection. Channel Nine would have a wonderful time hyping everyone up for the upcoming Test series. Imagine next November, with England playing three ODIs before the Ashes.

The best part? Test players would be available for the Big Bash. Imagine David Warner teeing off for the Sydney Sixers infront of a packed SCG? We’ve seen Nathan “Nice Garry” Lyon make an impact with the Sixers after the Test series, so the transition is possible. How good would an uninterrupted Big Bash would be, flush with Test players? Ten would need Scrooge McDuck’s mansion to count all the money.

It’s worth a shot.

Big Bash flashback

On Saturday night (January 28), the Perth Scorchers and Sydney Sixers play in BBL06’s “Big Final” at the WACA.

If it’s anything like their epic finish to BBL04 (2014/15), then we’re in for a treat.

The 2014/15 Final was important for a couple of reasons: it was the first decider played at a neutral venue – Canberra’s Manuka Oval – and it was legendary fast bowler Brett Lee’s final competitive match.

In an incredibly close round robin season, both the Scorchers (second) and Sixers (fourth) finished on 10 points, separated by the third-placed Melbourne Stars, also on 10 points, with Adelaide comfortable minor premiers on 13 points.

The Sixers pulled off a minor upset in Adelaide, beating the Strikers easily in the semi-final. After making 4/181, Doug Bollinger took 3/21 to dismiss the Strikers for just 94. Perth easily covered the Stars in the second semi, winning by 18 runs in Perth, dismissing the Stars for 126 after posting 7/144.

So it was a Perth v Sixers Final in Canberra; Sydney searching for their second title and Perth seeking revenge after losing to Sydney in 2011/12.

Batting first in the Final at Manuka Oval, captain Moises Henriques scored 77 from 57 balls, supported by Ryan Carters’ 35 not out from 25 as the Sixers posted 5/147 from 20 overs.

Perth began their chase positively, with openers Shaun Marsh (73 from 59) and Michael Klinger (33 from 37) compiling 70 in 11.3 overs. A second wicket stand of 43 with Marsh and captain Adam Voges (20 off 13) looked to have Perth cruising towards their second BBL title. With less than four overs left, Lee and Nathan Lyon gave the Sixers some hope. Lyon dismissed Marsh and Ashton Turner in the 18th over, with Perth still 16 runs short.

Entering Lee’s dramatic final over, Perth needed eight runs with six wickets left. Surely they had this won. When Michael Carberry hit four, two and one from the first three balls, the scores were tied and Perth needed just one run…

…Lee bowled Nathan Coulter-Nile with the fourth ball, pulling out his trademark chainsaw celebration, then bowled Sam Whiteman with the fifth ball.

The dramatic final ball was hit by Yasir Arafat, who scrambled for the winning run as Henriques missed a simple run out chance backing up the bowlers end stumps.

While it wasn’t the victorious farewell Lee deserved, it was definitely memorable.