Big Bash blasts off
Sydney - The glitzy Big Bash League blasts off on Friday with some of the biggest stars of international Twenty20 cricket alongside Australian legend Shane Warne aiming to attract a new youthful audience.
Cricket Australia is looking to create a world-class T20 tournament much in the same mould as the Indian Premier League with eight city-based teams and with an emphasis on energy and a fast-paced atmosphere.
The Big Bash has attracted some of T20's big names: Pakistan's Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq, West Indians Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard, South African Herschelle Gibbs, England's Paul Collingwood and Owais Shah.
Legspinning great Warne, now 42, is back to play again for the Melbourne Stars after apparently ending his stellar career at the IPL in May.
Former Test stars Matthew Hayden and Stuart MacGill have been lured into the shorter form of the game, alongside T20 contemporaries David Warner, Shane Watson and Brett Lee.
The eight city franchises - Adelaide Strikers, Brisbane Heat, Hobart Hurricanes, Melbourne Renegades, Melbourne Stars, Perth Scorchers, Sydney Sixers and Sydney Thunder - have filled their quota of two overseas players.
Cricket Australia is looking to tap into new sponsorship markets, with games expected to average 20 000 fans.
"It's fantastic for Australian cricket to have city-based franchise cricket," said Warne, who burnt his right bowling hand this week in a mishap cooking bacon, but hopes to play against Sydney Thunder at the MCG on Saturday.
"Delving into what Cricket Australia's trying to achieve - I think we've got the opportunity in Australia to have a world-class Twenty20 tournament."
BBL chief Mike McKenna said: "We're trying to sell this form of the game to a new audience and our objective really is to create new heroes."
"Playing over the Christmas and New Year period also guarantees there will be high-quality cricket in each Australian capital city during the game’s peak time of year.
"Fans will have plenty of opportunities to see some of the stars of the game up close."
The Big Bash runs from December 16 to the January 28 final, the same day as the scheduled fifth day of Australia's fourth and last cricket Test with India in Adelaide.
The traditional four-day Sheffield Shield competition has been sidelined by the Big Bash until February.