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Sydney clubs eye Test stars for BBL amid tight schedule

The door could be open for Australia’s all-format stars to link with KFC BBL clubs for this summer’s tournament, but a busy international schedule that involves a trio of Test campaigns in the space of four months looms as the most likely obstacle to them signing new deals.

Players like David Warner, Steve Smith, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc, who were all part of Australia’s T20 World Cup-winning team last year, are all currently without BBL contracts and the Sydney clubs will look to ensure the traditional Thunder and Sixers players are part of their lists for this season, should they be interested.

This summer’s international schedule features a three-match ODI series against South Africa between the New Year’s Test and the end of the BBL, but that campaign is yet to be locked in after a late request from Cricket South Africa to shift the series with the launch of their new T20 league slated for January. A rescheduling of that ODI series would also free up space in the calendar for Australia’s biggest names to return to the Big Bash.

But the most likely roadblock to their involvement in BBL|12, especially for fast bowlers Cummins, Hazlewood and Starc, is a heavy summer schedule that starts in Townsville in late August, includes a T20 World Cup on home soil as well as five home Tests and is followed by a blockbuster four-Test tour of India in February-March next year.

“We would love to see our Australian players taking part,” said Chris Botherway, acting head of the Sydney Sixers. “Whenever they’ve been available, they’ve always come back and played previously so I see that happening again in the future, if the schedules allow.”

Getting the best Australian players featuring in the tournament is also top of the agenda for BBL boss Alistair Dobson.

“This season there looks like there’s a window towards the back end where we’re really hopeful that a lot of those players will be able to play a couple of games and we’re working with our clubs to ensure they’re clear on the schedule,” he said.

Beyond this season, officials are eyeing an opportunity to create a permanent window for Australia’s all-format stars to be involved in the Big Bash in January, with a new Future Tours Program for international cricket to be unveiled later this year and negotiations on the next Memorandum of Understanding between Cricket Australia and the players’ union to come.

Draft explainer: How clubs will recruit overseas stars in BBL|12

Hazlewood’s last appearance in the BBL came when he played five games for the Sixers in 2019-20, which he credits as launching the revival of his T20 career.

Smith, whose push to play for the Sixers in last year’s finals series was denied by league officials, also played four matches alongside Hazlewood in BBL|09, scoring 120 runs at an average of 40 as the club clinched the first of their back-to -back titles.

Test skipper Cummins’ last Big Bash match was in BBL|08, Starc last played in 2014-15, while Warner has the longest drought of that group, with his Big Bash absence stretching back to 2013-14.

Following the announcement this week of an inaugural BBL overseas player draft, the domestic contracting embargo has also been lifted, meaning Australian players can officially sign new deals.

While a draft date is yet to be locked in, it appears likely it will be held in late August, with botherway indicating that some domestic signings could be put on hold until it’s known which overseas players have been nominated for the draft.

NSW captain Kurtis Patterson is out-of-contract with the Perth Scorchers and has been linked with a move back to one of the Sydney clubs, while veteran tweaker Steve O’Keefe is in negotiations to play a 12th BBL season.

Despite his red-hot form in England’s T20 Blast, where he’s hit two centuries, the Big Bash opportunities for Chris Lynn appear to be thinning out, with the competition’s all-time leading run-scorer not discussed in any Thunder list management meetings so far .

The Hobart Hurricanes’ new head of strategy, Ricky Ponting, also said Lynn wouldn’t be the best fit for their team given Matthew Wade, Ben McDermott, D’Arcy Short and Tim David have established roles in the top-order, while BBL |11 winning coach Adam Voges has said the Perth Scorchers were a “long way down the path” in terms of their local signings and he was keen to reward players who performed well for them last season.

Emerging young batter Mac Wright is out-of-contract and it’s understood he is keen to continue with the Hurricanes, but he is also chasing consistent opportunities, while Thunder duo Jono Cook and Chris Tremain both remain unsigned.

Meanwhile, the Melbourne Renegades have previously indicated their interest in veteran batter Jon Wells, whose contract wasn’t renewed by the Adelaide Strikers at the end of last season, as well as out-of-contract Hobart Hurricanes quick Tom Rogers.

James Rosengarten, the general manager of the Renegades, who has the best odds of getting the No.1 draft pick in the weighted lottery draw, believes the draft will revolutionize the Big Bash.

“From a club perspective … we have been heavily invested in the draft concept from the outset and strategically thinking of how we can maximize this as part of our list management process,” he said.

“Alongside our head coach David Saker and our coaching team, we have been working through our list management strategy for the past six months to turn things around on-field in BBL|12, with a view to our domestic player mix and then how to complement that through the draft.”

Brisbane Heat head coach Wade Seccombe said they would be looking to use their platinum pick on an impactful player who has won tournaments in the past.

“That could be a top-order bat, a pace bowler, a spinner, a middle-order finisher or an allrounder with our first pick … we will be looking at utilizing our draft position to maximize our recruiting return,” he said.

The Heat on Friday announced the re-signing of fast bowler Mark Steketee and young opener Max Bryant on two-year deals.

Voges flagged the Scorchers could pass with their first pick in the draft, which would require them to select a platinum player (the highest salary band) in favor of internationals with availability across the entire tournament, while both Sydney clubs are eager to see the draft nominations first to determine which ones would complement their domestic players.

Thunder boss Andrew Gilchrist said if the club could pick up a few players in the draft that could offer anything like the contributions of their recent internationals in Sam Billings and Alex Hales, then they will “be in a good place.”

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