Johnson stars as Gayle blushes spared in Big Bash

Brisbane (Australia) (AFP) –


Australia's glitzy and innovative Twenty20 Big Bash League returns for a sixth season Tuesday, sprinkled with international crowd-pleasers but no Chris Gayle.

The eight-team 40-day competition over the Christmas-New Year holiday summer period has become a phenomenal success, shattering television ratings and changing the way cricket is presented in the crowded Australian sports marketplace.

It has become a magnet for some of the sport's great entertainers with Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakkara, New Zealand's Brendon McCullum, English trio Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Stuart Broad and West Indians Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell among those playing.

The shorter three-hour T20 format has allowed veteran players to stay and even prosper in the game, including Australians such as Shane Watson, Brad Hogg, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson.

Former Test fast bowler Johnson, 35, is coming out of retirement to play a season with the Perth Scorchers.

"It's exciting to be able to play Twenty20 cricket," Johnson said.

"A lot of the boys have told me about the Big Bash and how good it's become, not only from a spectators' point of view but also from a player's point of view.

"It's really good to play and it's only getting bigger and bigger."

But there is no room for Calypso showman Gayle, 37, who has thrived like no other in the T20 era.

The prodigious-hitting West Indian caused outrage during the last BBL with his infamous "Don’t blush baby" flirting boundary-line interview with a female TV reporter during a spell with the Melbourne Renegades, sparking claims of sexism.

He was fined after his behaviour was condemned by cricket authorities as "completely out of line", but BBL manager Anthony Everard insisted he had not been banned.

"There is a process for us where clubs need to seek CA approval for overseas players, and nothing came across our desk," he said, explaining that Gayle had no suitors.

- Fans flock in -

Despite his absence, the BBL is still expected to see sell-out crowds with defending champions Sydney Thunder opening the new season with a cross-town derby against the Sydney Sixers.

The BBL has brought new fans to the sport, particularly children, women and ethnic minorities and has television companies clamouring to bid for the next batch of lucrative rights when the current lot expires at the end of the 2017-18 season.

It has also piqued interest from overseas with the American NBC network showing 10 games this year. It will also be shown in Britain.

Another enticing feature has been groundbreaking technology from cameras on helmets and umpires, to the Australian-designed Zing Wicket System, which has a sensor in the bails when the wicket is broken.

The players are also 'miked up' and talking while batting and fielding.

"Importantly for us we had more people attending games of cricket last year than ever before in over the last 100 years, I think it was around 1.7 million," Everard said, adding that the BBL had taken the sport to new audiences.