Sydney Sixers are firming as the likely Big Bash League destination for AB de Villiers, as part of a package deal with Cricket Australia and broadcasters that may be worth more than AUD350,000 for a stint at the back end of next summer's tournament.
CA and broadcasters both confirmed to BBL clubs that they would offer financial assistance to help secure de Villiers' signature ahead of a season where the men's ODI team will be absent from Australia during a chunk of January - CA's contribution understood to be up to $50,000 in return for marketing services. The Sixers appear to have the inside running for reasons over and above than the playing, marketing and broadcasting deal they are able to piece together for the South African and his management.
Most BBL clubs are believed to have been interested in signing de Villiers up - Adelaide Strikers would have had he been available for the whole season - and submitted offers last week, with Sydney Thunder's proposal strengthened by the salary cap room afforded to them by the retirement of Shane Watson, who will restrict himself to shorter overseas T20 jaunts rather than the longer and more demanding BBL schedule.
However, the Sixers have a couple of advantages not able to be found elsewhere. Not only will de Villiers have a friend and former team-mate on hand in Morne Morkel, who will be spending six months of the year in Sydney with his family, he will be able to play home games at the SCG, the venue of his memorable 162 from 66 balls for South Africa against the West Indies at the 2015 World Cup.
"We would be absolutely delighted to have AB join the Sixers and have made an offer for this summer," Sixers general manager Jodie Hawkins told ESPNcricinfo. "We understand there are a number of BBL clubs wanting to welcome AB, but we believe we offer him a great option to experience the Big Bash, living in Sydney by the beach, playing at one of his favourite grounds, the SCG, and just enjoying what Sydney offers in summer, that's a pretty good proposition. He'd also be great working with some of our young stars like Josh Philippe, and meeting our incredible fans."
Ad hoc high profile signings with financial assistance from CA and broadcasters such as Fox Sports have been a part of the BBL's history, most notably Shane Warne and Kevin Pietersen with Melbourne Stars, and the news that the Australian ODI team would be pressed to honour a pre-existing commitment to tour India next January has helped add impetus to the push to secure de Villiers for at least part of the next competition.
But the creation of a more equitable marquee system for high profile international names remains strongly desired by numerous clubs, while others within the Australian system would prefer an auction for overseas players. The Australian Cricketers Association has blocked attempts by CA to add one more overseas place to BBL playing lists for next summer, arguing that the length of the tournament is a greater barrier to the world's best players taking part rather than the money or squad positions available.
Andrew McDonald, coach of the tournament-winning Melbourne Renegades, told ESPNcricinfo earlier this year that the BBL's credibility demanded a more even system for high profile overseas players. "I think the only way you could do that is to have a marquee [fund]," McDonald said in February. "[CA] is talking to us. Everyone is talking essentially. Our CEO is talking to us as coaches, that's going back up to Cricket Australia.
"We've identified that there is a problem or a potential problem, if we don't get it right going forward. I think the only way to do it is if we have eight marquee spots available, get 16 players from around the world to nominate, and then you have a marquee draft. Just have a lottery draft. Pull the Melbourne Stars out of the hat first, whoever out of the hat second and they pick eight marquee players, and those marquee players have to sign up for the entirety of the tournament."
The Stars and Melbourne Renegades are among other clubs believed to be heavily interested in de Villiers, but there is also a parallel competition to secure Andre Russell, whose star has shone evermore brightly in this year's IPL, resulting in his recall to the West Indies ODI team for the World Cup in England later this year.
Other BBL recruiting moves are afoot, with Fawad Ahmed set to join the Perth Scorchers to form a spin bowling tandem with Ashton Agar, and the West Australian paceman Nathan Coulter-Nile likely to be unveiled by the Melbourne Stars among their signings for 2019-20.
Colin Ingram will not return to the Adelaide Strikers next KFC BBL season, the club has announced.
The South African, who was out of contract with the Strikers at the end of BBL|08 after two years with the Adelaide side, informed the club he had decided not to play in the Big Bash League this summer.
“We are disappointed to lose Colin but we were aware that it was a strong possibility that for family reasons he could not commit to a new contract,” SACA General Manager High Performance Tim Nielsen said, hailing Ingram’s influence both on and off the field.
“He is a quality player and leader and was one of the key players behind our first BBL title win last year. We wish Colin, Megan and family all the best.”
Ingram played 25 games for the Strikers across the past two seasons, scoring 610 runs at an average of 30.5 and strike rate of 138.95.
He also led the side in 14 games when captain Travis Head was on international duties.
His departure means the Strikers will be on the lookout for new international talent, but in good news for Adelaide fans, star spinner Rashid Khan will be back, having signed a two-deal deal ahead of BBL|08.
While Ingram won’t return to Australian shores this summer, a South African legend could make his BBL debut.
AB de Villiers is interested in wielding the willow Down Under in the 2019-20 season and is understood to be on the lookout for a BBL club in the back half of next summer's tournament, with a number of clubs having been approached by the master batsman's management.
It is believed several clubs have shown interest in the big-hitting batsman, who bowed out of international cricket last April but remains one of the world's most sought-after commodities on the T20 circuit, with his revolutionary batting skills in the one-day format transferring seamlessly into the game's shortest format.
Big Bash League: Dwayne Bravo set to quit Melbourne Stars
The Big Bash League is set to lose another stalwart, with Dwayne Bravo almost certain to sit out next summer’s tournament.
Foxsports.com.au understands Bravo, who has played for three franchises across eight BBL campaigns, was telling close friends and teammates he won’t return to Australia to play for the Melbourne Stars as far back as January.
The Stars are aware of Bravo’s intentions, even if the player has not notified them officially. The club has begun looking elsewhere for overseas talent.
Bravo was out of contract at the Stars anyway and he was voicing his frustrations with the length of the tournament as early as January.
This perspective has undoubtedly played a part in his decision not to seek a contract at the Stars or any other franchise, although it’s expected he will continue to play T20 cricket elsewhere for the foreseeable future.
His loss will be yet another dagger to the heart of the BBL and its fading star power. Already the league has lost Shane Watson (Sydney Thunder) and Colin Ingram (Adelaide Strikers) and Brendon McCullum (Brisbane Heat) from BBL 08.
Rules changed to allow clubs to sign up to six overseas players per season
The KFC Big Bash League has today confirmed a contracting rule change for BBL|09.
The BBL Player Contracting Rules will be changed to allow every BBL club to contract up to six overseas players across the season, two more than in previous years.
Clubs are entitled to have a maximum of two overseas players on their eighteen-man roster, although they can now nominate an additional four overseas players as potential replacements throughout the course of the BBL|09 season.
The pilot ruling introduced last year in consultation with the Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA) will continue in BBL|09, whereby clubs will have the flexibility to rotate these players in and out of their squads as required.
A decision on a club’s replacement request will be at the discretion of the BBL Technical Committee.
The change comes after the League reviewed its Rules and Regulations following the conclusion of BBL|08.
Cricket Australia Executive General Manager Fan Engagement Anthony Everard said:
"At the conclusion of each season we take the time to review what’s working well and where we can make positive changes to the game and the fan experience.
"We’ve considered feedback from our fans and worked with relevant stakeholders of the game to implement changes that will continue to improve the competition in 2019/20.
"The ACA, BBL clubs and our broadcast partners have been an integral part of that, leading to the introduction of each club being allowed to contract up to six overseas players in BBL|09.
"The maximum number of overseas players permitted in a club’s squad will remain at two, but there is now increased flexibility to contract up to six players throughout the season and rotate them in and out as required.
"It’s a fantastic result for the competition, with clubs given a better chance at securing international players on a short-term basis to fit into an increasingly competitive global cricketing calendar."
AB de Villiers has backtracked from his earlier interest in taking part in the Big Bash League for 2019-20, in the process casting a major cloud over how Cricket Australia will satisfy its broadcast partners in the search for marquee talent to sell the competition.
Last month, de Villiers' management had indicated to BBL clubs that the former South Africa captain was interested in playing in the competition, albeit for a limited stretch towards its concluding stages in late January and early February, following his commitments in the Bangladesh Premier League.
However, ESPNcricinfo has learned that de Villiers has now flagged to interested clubs his unwillingness to take part in the BBL, having realised the degree to which CA and the BBL were looking towards him as a panacea for the tournament's plateaued television ratings and match-by-match attendances, amid its rapid growth from eight games per team to 14 each - a full home-and-away schedule.
Up to this point, CA, the clubs, and the broadcasters - Fox Sports and Seven - had appeared set to put together a package deal worth as much as A$350,000 to land de Villiers for a segment of the tournament, though there was a level of disquiet about how such a deal could be struck without an equitable system being in place for all clubs to secure big names.
There is some suspicion among clubs that de Villiers may still return to the bargaining table in search of a better offer, given the obvious desire for his presence in Australia next summer. But, for the moment at least, his signature appears likely to remain elusive, in what is a significant setback for the league. As recently as last week, CA's head of events and leagues, Anthony Everard, had expressed hope that players of de Villiers' ilk would add sheen to the summer, particularly in light of the national team's absence for a large chunk of January to tour India.
"Something we've really been focusing on irrespective of the Australian team going to India, we're buoyed by some conversations that some of the clubs are having and it's been reported some of the big names potentially coming out," Everard had said on May 7. "The success of the BBL has always been predicated on a combination of marketable overseas players, some young up and coming stars and the foundation of the Australian domestic players."
Other players, notably Andre Russell, have attracted the interest of BBL clubs and would demand a similar asking price, leaving the ball in CA's court as to whether or not the governing body would offer similar assistance to secure his services.
"Cricket Australia is committed to a competition that meets fan demands. This includes supporting BBL clubs to create a competition that features international stars to complement strong local talent," acting Head of the BBL Abhi Arunachalam said. "The recent rule changes have been implemented so clubs have the best opportunity to recruit overseas players among a cluttered global calendar."
A gaggle of top-tier talent has drained away from the BBL in recent times, including overseas names such as Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Bravo, Eoin Morgan and Russell, while bankable Australian players such as Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson have exited the tournament over the past 12 months, in part due to its increased length and demands.
Both CA and the clubs had been open to the institution of a system whereby each club could nominate one marquee overseas player to be paid outside the present BBL salary cap, but the plan fell afoul of the Australian Cricketers' Association, which has countered that the length of the tournament is a bigger obstacle than overseas player places.
Instead, CA on Saturday announced it would allow clubs to sign up to six overseas players over the course of the BBL, provided only two were part of 18-member squads at any one time, and replacements were approved by the tournament's technical committee.
"At the conclusion of each season we take the time to review what's working well and where we can make positive changes to the game and the fan experience," Everard said. "We've considered feedback from our fans and worked with relevant stakeholders of the game to implement changes that will continue to improve the competition in 2019/20.
"The ACA, BBL clubs and our broadcast partners have been an integral part of that, leading to the introduction of each club being allowed to contract up to six overseas players in BBL|09. The maximum number of overseas players permitted in a club's squad will remain at two, but there is now increased flexibility to contract up to six players throughout the season and rotate them in and out as required.
"It's a fantastic result for the competition, with clubs given a better chance at securing international players on a short-term basis to fit into an increasingly competitive global cricketing calendar."
CA's preference for Australian players to be available for the pointy end of the BBL may provide some salve to the problem of raising the tournament's profile, after the likes of Pat Cummins, Glenn Maxwell and Aaron Finch added lustre to its closing stages in 2019. David Warner, who has not played in the BBL since 2013-14, remains a potential signing for one of the clubs.