BBL hopes to get ahead of new rival leagues with early overseas draft

The BBL will aim to get a jump on the new rival T20 leagues emerging in UAE and South Africa by hosting its first overseas player draft in August in a bid to secure leading players early as it attempts to revive the competition.

The tournament announced a new overseas recruitment model on Wednesday with top-line overseas players set to earn $AUD340,000 and given the option of nominating the amount of games they want to be available for during December and January without having to commit to the whole tournament.

It has been difficult for the BBL to match the riches on offer in the UAE and potentially South Africa, as well as even the BPL and the PSL, given the league is bound by a $AUD1.9 million dollar salary cap for an 18-man squad and for a competition that is significantly longer. But players will get to nominate for three price categories – Gold, Silver and Bronze – with an additional Platinum level on offer for the biggest names. Cricket Australia will contribute a significant portion to each salary bracket to sit outside the cap to help the clubs.

There is no official date set for the draft but it is understood that it will likely be held in August, up to four months before the start of the BBL season. The tournament will once again be a full 14-game home and away season likely to run from mid-December to late-January, with fixtures set to be announced in July. There is a need to lift the competition ahead of the next TV rights deal, with the current deal ending in 2024, after a difficult few years compounded by Covid-19.

An August draft is not ideal for clubs, who would prefer it be held closer to the season so they have greater clarity on their needs and player availability. However, BBL general manager Alistair Dobson and BBL player acquisition and cricket consultant Trent Woodhill both believe the earlier draft will give high-profile overseas stars clarity and options to lock themselves into playing in the BBL prior to the UAE and South Africa leagues getting established in what is set to be a crowded January calendar.

“We are keen to be able to provide players and agents and clubs with a timeline that gives certainty and allows them to plan their year and be confident that the BBL is a place they want to come and play which we know they’re looking forward to,” Dobson told ESPNcricinfo.

The BBL is confident they can secure some big names after early fruitful discussions with agents.

“It’s actually been really positive,” Woodhill told ESPNcricinfo. “I feel like there’s clarity. Players want certainty. Player agents now have an opportunity to put their players up in lights and then work with the clubs to promote their players. The clubs get a choice. And I think it really suits the competition. And I’m confident they’re going to get some really good names.

The league has previously left the recruitment of overseas players to the clubs to do privately. But Woodhill believes the draft will bring greater fan interest to the process with clubs’ decisions on who they select base on who is available now out in the open.

“By having a draft, it’s up in lights,” he said. “It’s harder for the clubs to dismiss a high-profile player and they have an opportunity to draft them or choose somebody else in the draft.

“I like the fact there is a choice. The choice for the player in what band they nominate in but also a choice for the clubs to see how they fit into their existing domestic team. And then explaining why they’ve done that. You always want to know why teams have gone for a spinner or a quick or an allrounder or maybe a frontline bat. So I’m excited to see the viewpoint of the club and the explanation from the club as to why they’ve gone for one big name over another.”

The one downside that has been discussed among players is that the draft does not allow overseas names to choose where they will play, with a summer stint based in the beachside eastern suburbs of Sydney proving a popular recruiting tool for Sydney Sixers pre-Covid, for example.

Clubs have also been reluctant in the past to pay big portions of the salary cap to star players for short-term deals with some clubs preferring to recruit lower-tier overseas players for specific roles over a full season. Andre Russell did a short stint last year at Melbourne Stars and they missed the finals while AB de Villiers’ six-game stint at Brisbane Heat in 2019-20 was equally unsuccessful.

On the flipside, Perth Scorchers recruited lesser-known Englishman Laurie Evans last year for a very specific middle-order role. He was available to play for the entire campaign with Scorchers on less money and ended up being Player of the Match in the final fulfilling the exact role he was recruited for.

There was some push and pull from the BBL and the clubs initially when the draft concept was raised with clubs still keen to do their own bespoke recruiting. However, clubs have been pleased that they were able to work with the league to come up with a draft model that allows clubs to use one retention pick, so that teams like Adelaide Strikers get to retain Rashid Khan even if another club drafts him.

Clubs also won’t be forced to take a big-money Platinum player who is only available for a short stint if they would prefer to recruit a lesser name in a Silver or Bronze category for the full year. Dobson, Woodhill and the clubs have been meeting weekly over zoom to discuss the mechanics of the draft.

“We’ve consulted for a long period of time with clubs and they’re excited about what the draft brings,” Dobson said. “I think there’s a bit of apprehension around the pressure and it is new territory for clubs in terms of being live on draft day or draft night and I think we’re excited to see how they handle that.

“Clearly, success is the quality of the players that we get in. But trailing along not far behind that is the amount of interest and stories we can tell and speculation and debate and potentially controversy that sits around that because we think that’s all going to be a great build-up to the start of the BBL season.”

Woodhill, who was formally the list manager at Melbourne Stars and has worked on auction strategy with Royal Challengers Bangalore during his time coaching in the IPL, was in no doubt about what his approach would be if he was entering the draft with a club.

“You can’t underestimate star power,” Woodhill said. “Some teams look at it as a whole year approach. I’d be looking at how many wins do we need to make the top five and then I’m looking to find the best player possible in the draft to help me get to that point. If it’s seven games, then we need to get the seven games. So that’s my first target.

“So it’s hard to look past an Andre Russell, a Sunil Narine or a Kieron Pollard, Faf du Plessis because they win a lot of player of the match awards. So I’d be aiming high.”

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo

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