Melbournians divided over BigBash split

Melbourne Stars duo David Hussey and Matthew Wade celebrate the dismissal of their teammate Brad Hodge.

This article first appeared on The Roar.

Last night I walked into the MCG with a Renegades top on and a Stars membership around my neck. I inevitably left the ground a happy man, if not a tad confused one at that.

The BigBash League has asked Victorians to divide their allegiances, based solely on favourite players, bright colours, and Melbourne’s twin sporting behemoths.  For some the decision has been easy. For others, such as myself, it’s been like choosing a favourite child.

On one hand, you’ve got Warney, the MCG and Australia’s (former) Twenty20 captain Cameron White. Add international star David Hussey and Test aspirant Matthew Wade to that list and you’ve got yourself a pretty convincing case.

On the other hand, you’ve got Hodgey – the greatest cricketer known to man – and Shahid Afridi. You’ve also got a stadium that all but guarantees a result, and a batsman-friendly boundary line that promises high scoring.

So puzzled as to who to follow, I’ve thus far gone to every Melbourne game, at both the MCG and Etihad Stadium. While the BigBash accountants probably admire my indecisiveness, I know that I’ll have to choose a side sooner or later. But after five games – and three losses – I still support only Melbourne. No nickname, just a full stop.

Part of the problem is that cricket is both a sport of individuals and the team. While most Victorians follow the national side far more passionately than they do the Bushrangers, their level of interest in the international arena spikes when there’s a local boy in the eleven. What Victorian didn’t feel a smidge of disappointment whenever Ben Hilfenhaus took a wicket in the Indian series, denying one of the Dandenong boys another to their collection?

What a star!

It doesn’t feel right to divide the Bushrangers straight down the middle. Regardless of which team one chooses, they will inevitably find themselves opposed to a favourite son. It’s a battle of Warne vs. McDonald; McKay vs. Nannes; Quiney vs. Finch.

There was an uneasy feeling around the ground yesterday when Wade smacked a couple of boundaries off Hodge’s off-spin bowling. As happy as everyone was for Wade and his Test ambitions, nobody likes to see Hodge publicly humiliated. Surely the selectors have hurt him enough already.

The other dilemma is that both Melbourne teams identify with the same geographical region – Melbourne. It’s a similar story in the A-league, where soccer lovers have been divided between the Heart and the Victory.

The crowds have told the story, with the only AFL-esque attendance occurring last night when the two Melbourne teams came together. The 40,000-strong audience was reminiscent of previous seasons when Victoria games consistently attracted big numbers. It was foolish of the league administrators to believe that such a figure would continue unabated after the Renegades-Stars split. Honestly, where did they think the extra 20,000 fans were going to spring up from?

A far more practical solution would have been to give Geelong its own team and permit that squad to recruit more developing or international players. As such, the loyalty of Melbournians towards their Bushranger heroes wouldn’t have been tested. Geelong, meanwhile, could have attached themselves with a new breed of players – perhaps the Maxwells, Keaths and Handscombs of Victorian cricket.

Last night proved to doubters that the BigBash is indeed a BigDeal. Despite the naysayers, pyjama uniforms, quirky nicknames and unnecessary fireworks are not enough to turn Melbournians off their favourite summer sport.

Last night proved just as effectively, though, that Melbournians have yet to decide where their hearts lie. Indeed they may yet take two or three seasons before their passions fly in either direction. With the teams set in stone, however, the onus is now on the Renegades and the Stars to ensure they can win over the allegiances of this city’s fickle population.

Winning games would be a good start.