Free hits on BBL agenda, split unlikely

Rob Forsaith
Batsmen may receive a free hit after facing a wide delivery in a revamped Big Bash League

The Big Bash League is unlikely to adopt the split-innings proposal put forward by an independent review, but free hits for wides and other innovations are in the mix for its 10th season.

Cricket Australia commissioned David Barham, the former Channel 10 mastermind who took the BBL to such great heights that it formed part of a $1.2-billion broadcast deal in 2018, to compile a report amid concerns about TV and crowd numbers.

Barham's dossier included a left-field idea to split each innings, essentially introducing four-innings games in an attempt to manufacture more close finishes and maintain interest throughout 40 overs.

BBL boss Alistair Dobson declared last week that nothing is off the table for 2020-21, but AAP understands the split-innings concept is unlikely to make the cut.

Discussions about what should be tweaked to help revitalise the BBL are expected to continue for at least a month, but one change being strongly considered is to punish both wides and no-balls with a free hit.

Bowlers currently only concede a free hit if overstepping.

Administrators are also looking at splitting the batting powerplay, which currently spans the first six overs of an innings.

Fielding restrictions would remain in place for the opening couple of overs then batsmen would have to decide when to take the second part of the powerplay, adding another tactical element to games.

Split innings were introduced into Australia's domestic one-day competition 10 years ago, despite opposition from players, then scrapped after a single season.

"It probably didn't work as well as what people would have liked," Brisbane Heat opener Joe Burns said this week.

"But if we can adapt the (BBL) game in any way to bring more fans in or get more people watching on TV it can only be a good thing ... I'm all for innovation."

The COVID-19 pandemic and CA's financial woes have underlined the importance of the BBL to the governing body and state associations, offering a relatively stable revenue stream compared to extreme fluctuations associated with different international touring sides.

At the peak of the health crisis, CA even mapped out a contingency plan for summer in which its domestic Twenty20 competition took centre stage and international travel was not possible.

That scenario now appears highly unlikely, with CA increasingly optimistic about the prospect of India arriving for a Test series worth $300 million in broadcast revenue.