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Cheap ‘n’ cheerful start to Big Bash

Jolly good fun: Santa entertains at a Big Bash League match. Photo: Robert Prezioso/Getty ImagesHeading into the new season of cricket’s bite-size format, the Twenty20 Big Bash League, jibes about its validity came as often as English wickets have tumbled in the Test arena.

Just what to make of the plethora of Twenty20 competitions around the cricketing world still remains unclear. It’s a professional business but how serious is it really? Green Guide writer Gordon Farrer made his feelings clear when he bemoaned: ”It’s just not cricket”.

Regardless of opinions of that kind, it was up to new BBL broadcaster Channel Ten to follow Fox Sports’ good work of recent seasons and provide some, er, meat on the KFC-sponsored Big Bash bone, and validate why it has opted to shell out $100 million, including contra, over five years.

”It is a legitimate form of cricket,” Adam Gilchrist, the cricketing great turned commentator, insisted on the opening night in a message for those doubters.

To that end, Ten’s coverage so far has been a mix of in-depth analysis, solid ball-by-ball play and, unfortunately, the gimmicky. Having a so-called celebrity perched on a stage in the stands, waiting fruitlessly to catch a ball that has gone for six in the hope of securing a jackpot for a viewer at home, just cheapens things.

In the commentary booth, Gilchrist and former Australian captain Ricky Ponting have warmed to their duties. Their in-depth dissection of players and captaincy tactics, and the digital images Ten has used to highlight such areas as a batsman’s hitting zones, have been excellent and add to the vibrancy that underscores the Twenty20 format.

Fabled West Indian master blaster Viv Richards, who enjoys a good laugh, has also been refreshing. He sits well alongside the no-nonsense Mark Waugh and Damien Fleming, the latter combining analysis and humour, who have crossed from Fox Sports.

Ten has also been smart in ensuring its coverage has a news bent. The day England’s Graeme Swann unexpectedly retired, host Mel McLaughlin opened by seeking Ponting’s immediate reaction.

There was later an interview with Australia’s man-of-the-moment, Mitchell Johnson.

This crossover to the Test action, even though the Ashes series is broadcast by rival Channel Nine, makes sense, and can only be a good thing for a sport that no longer can take for granted its place on the summer sporting landscape.

Where Ten, ultimately, will be judged is in the ratings. More than 1.16 million capital city and regional viewers tuned in to the opening match between the Stars and Renegades. More than 1.13 million took in the Sydney derby the following night, again more than the doubling the expectations of Cricket Australia and Ten.

Heading into the January holiday period, Ten and CA rightly believe ratings – and attendances – will only improve.

But it’s still hard to know what to make of this manufactured tournament, one that cannot yet secure the elite subcontinent players it needs to really tap into the lucrative Asian market.

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