A ratings hit last summer, the Twenty20 Big Bash League has been struck by a series of blows on the eve of its second edition, with Test captain Michael Clarke withdrawn from Saturday's Sydney derby and Brisbane deprived of star attractions Dale Steyn and Daniel Vettori.
Clarke was scratched due to back soreness from the Sydney Thunder line-up to play the defending champions, Sydney Sixers, at the SCG and will be replaced by Usman Khawaja.
Vettori, the New Zealand spinner, was due to play for the Heat but is out of the tournament completely with an Achilles injury while further fitness problems for fast bowlers Josh Hazlewood (Sixers), Ben Hilfenhaus (Hobart Hurricanes) John Hastings (Melbourne Stars) will also sideline them from the first round of matches this weekend.
They are unfortunate setbacks for the fledgling competition but there is anger over the backflip of Cricket South Africa in making Steyn unavailable for the one-match appearance he was to have made for the Heat against Ricky Ponting's Hurricanes at the Gabba on Sunday.
CSA has rejected the protests of Cricket Australia in the Heat to allow Steyn to honour his short-term contract, instead insisting he return home to play in a domestic one-day semi-final for his provincial side, Cape Cobras. South Africa have at the last minute withdrawn a no-objection certificate that had been sent to the Heat, leaving officials and players angry.
''We conducted all of our negotiations with Dale and his management in good faith and fulfilled all requirements that the BBL needed in order to sign him as one of our international players,'' Heat general manager Andrew Blucher said.
''Dale is also unhappy with this outcome. He was looking forward to the match, and of course has a very good relationship with our coach Darren Lehmann. He and his manager are embarrassed and upset about the way things have turned out, considering we were crystal clear with what we had communicated to Cricket South Africa. We would have imagined that CSA and the Cobras would have consulted and worked out the various scenarios that would have been involved. For that not to happen is quite extraordinary and highly unprofessional.''
Former Test spinner Nathan Hauritz summed up the reaction at the Heat, tweeting: ''Shattered that Dale Steyn and Dan Vettori are not playing this Sunday.''
The Thunder, having lost marquee player Clarke, were allowed to draft in Khawaja, who will captain a Chairman's XI against Sri Lanka in Canberra on Thursday but will leave before the final day of the tour match on Saturday to return to Sydney.
Thunder general manager John Dyson said: ''We wish [Clarke] a speedy recovery, will look forward to his support at the game and the team is still raring to go.''
- Sydney Morning Herald
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