Cricket ACT is pushing hard to have a Canberra team in the men’s and women’s Big Bash Leagues (BBL) — but what are its chances?
In the way of credentials, it already has an important box ticked with its top-shelf facility in Manuka Oval, which regularly hosts international matches and attracts good crowds — exemplified by the sell-out BBL clash between the Sydney Thunder and the Adelaide Strikers earlier this month.
But other questions would need to be answered before Cricket Australia authorities would consider adopting a Canberra outfit, including:
Does the ACT have the quantity and quality of players to compete?
Would any new BBL and WBBL teams dilute the standard of the competition?
And is Canberra a big enough market to draw consistent local support?
Canberra’s cricket history
The ACT Meteors have been in the women’s national one-day competition (WNCL) since 2009, and the Canberra Comets were in the men’s one-day competition for three years in the late 1990s, memorably featuring former Australian players Merv Hughes and Mike Veletta.
Cricket ACT has since lobbied the federal government and Cricket Australia to allow it to become a full member and be a part of a WBBL and BBL expansion.
Cricket Australia’s six members are the states, and the ACT and Northern Territory would need four of the six states to vote in favour of their membership before they can join.
Former Cricket ACT chief executive Mark Vergano said it would not be easy for the territory to gain Cricket Australia membership.
“The states are the members and so they will protect that somewhat, [which] is what we’ve faced in the past,” he said.
Vergano said it’d be an “easier process” for Cricket ACT to try gain a spot in the Big Bash than convince the states to grant it membership and gain the increased funding that would come with that.
Does the local talent stack-up?
Peter Solway was a key batter for the Canberra Comets during their run in the national competition.
He still plays a role in the region’s cricket scene with Queanbeyan and is adamant the ACT can prove its worth on the national stage.
“We do have the talent around this area and that’s been proven by the test players that we’ve produced in Brad Haddin, Nathan Lyon, Michael Bevan going back a few years — and we’ve got a number of first-class players doing their thing and doing really well,” Solway said.
He says in the years the Comets played nationally, the local competition was significantly boosted by players from other capital cities, as well as those hailing from country NSW and Victoria who wanted to play at a national level.
Solway says he’s confident that would happen again if Canberra was granted a Big Bash licence.
“It’d be no different to Tasmania or South Australia who rely on cricketers from interstate to come and make their states competitive,” Solway said.
The ACT Meteors have finished as high as third several times in the Women’s National Cricket League.
They’ve had stars such as Erin Osborne, who played 118 games for Australia, and fellow national team player Kris Britt.
The Meteors have struggled in the WNCL this year but their captain Katie Mack was the sixth highest scorer in the 2023/24 WBBL season with the Adelaide Strikers.
Could new teams dilute the BBL?
Expanding the WBBL and BBL will have its detractors, particularly as the 2023/24 season saw improved crowd figures and television viewer numbers, with the boost attributed to Cricket Australia reducing the number of regular season games from 56 to 40.
Naysayers will also argue that more BBL teams will lead to a drop in standards of play.
But Vergano believes the opposite would happen, arguing it would provide chances for quality players to make their marks.
“If you look at the talent, Josh Brown and Spencer Johnson were stars of the BBL this year,” he said.
“Josh Brown is a grade cricket player that really isn’t in the state system. Spencer Johnson was languishing in grade cricket with enormous talent,” Vergano said.
He also pointed to a similar tale in Canberra player Jono Dean who entered the spotlight with a rapid-fire half-century for the Prime Minister’s XI against the West Indies in 2013 and went onto play for the Adelaide Strikers.
“The talent is out there but we’ve got to take the plunge to say let’s expand this and give the talent a chance to breathe, ” Vergano said.
Is Canberra’s cricket market big enough?
The ACT’s population is around 460,000 and is expected to edge towards 800,000 by 2060, according to the ACT government.
But is that big enough to satisfy Cricket Australia officials? And what about funding?
“The opportunity [to join Cricket Australia] would allow us to actually generate more funds,” Vergano said.
He described the ACT as an untapped market for Cricket Australia with potential financial opportunities.
Another option could see a current BBL team relocated to Canberra, such as the Sydney Thunder which is based out of western Sydney and already plays some home games at Manuka Oval.
However, that might be a tough sell considering Canberra’s population is dwarfed by Sydney’s west.