An earlier start? Give it a bash

TWENTY20, we have been regularly told, is the format Cricket Australia believes will introduce children to cricket and have them hooked forevermore. But the timing of many of the Big Bash League's fixtures seems to have worked against that principle. It's a tough one for CA, because television ratings pay the bills. But it's hard to imagine many kids under 12 staying up to watch a match that finishes near 11pm.

CA's executive general manager for operations, Mike McKenna, said: ''We've worked hard to strike the right balance between those watching at home and attending matches, so it's been pleasing to see both the increased attendances and viewership numbers so far for this season. Average attendance is up across the country, including both Sydney teams, compared to this time last year.''

McKenna says there are large numbers of children and families at BBL games. True, but if the BBL were not beating last year's crowds, something would be seriously wrong. In 2012-13, the competition started in early December. This season, CA moved the league's start to the school holidays. The Sixers averaged 13,500 in 2012-13 and the Thunder 11,000. For last year's Sydney derby, 15,279 turned up. This year, in school holidays, 18,180 attended.

We suspect, after factoring in getting home by public transport, the potential late bedtime kept many families away. Three of the Thunder's four games at ANZ Stadium start at 7.40pm, and the Sixers have two 7.40pm starts. The other Sydney matches start at 7.10pm.

Smashing, Monty

His national team has been thumped, but England spinner Monty Panesar proved he is a champion by volunteering for next Sunday's T20 Battle of the Smashers cricket match at Ashfield's Pratten Park, which will raise money for the victims of the Blue Mountains bushfires.

Panesar, who is playing for Wests in Sydney's grade competition, will weave his magic alongside 84-year-old Test great Alan Davidson, who will open the bowling, Australian fast bowler Mitchell Starc, players from Wests cricket club, Wests Tigers Dene Halatau and Blake Austin, and GWS stars Steve Coniglio and Sam Frost.

They will oppose a Barbarians outfit that includes former Test cricketers Phil Jaques, Daryl Tuffey and Gavin Robertson, former world champion boxer Danny Green, Sydney Sixers big-hitter Daniel Smith, former Kangaroos Nathan Hindmarsh, Hazem El Masri and Steve Mortimer, and Swans legend Michael O'Loughlin. The first ball will be bowled at noon. Admission by gold coin donation.

Blood cancer is no problem for this comeback queen

We applaud athletes who come back from injury. But Russian Alisa Kleybanova deserves total respect after overcoming something much more serious than a torn hammy. Kleybanova will be drawn in the Australian Open qualifiers this week as part of her ongoing challenge to break back into the world top 20. Soon after she last reached those heights, in early 2011, she pulled out of tennis for two months due to illness. Then, on her 22nd birthday, Kleybanova announced she'd been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a blood cancer. Amazingly, by December that year, she was cleared of the disease and by February 2012 was back on court. Her return to tennis continued steadily through 2013 and she recently said she would take 2014 month by month. Her courage was rewarded  when she was  named WTA Comeback Player of the Year

Dib considers future

Either retirement or a jump in weight class looms for former featherweight champion Billy Dib, who has taken time away from the boxing ring to assess the next step in his career. A loss to Evgeny Gradovich in November has Dib at a crossroads. It was the second loss to the hard-punching Russian last year after Gradovich took Dib's IBF featherweight title in March. Dib. 28, is seriously considering retirement, with three losses - all world title bouts - in his 40-fight career. Maintaining and making weight has been a problem for Dib in recent fights, so if he does fight on, he will push up weights to either super featherweight or lightweight. Despite the losses, Dib has done little to hurt his once-tarnished reputation in the US. He still has six fights remaining on his contract with promoter 50 Cent, and the rapper has been in constant contact with Dib's camp praising his recent efforts and hoping he will fight on. The boxer's camp will meet 50 Cent in the new year to map out his next step. Dib's brother and manager, Emaid, said while Billy would take time out to consider his future, his reputation had not been dented. ''We have had great feedback from the US networks,'' Emaid said. ''50 [Cent] is still keen as he ever has been.'' Australia's only world champion, Sakio Bika, has returned home to Cameroon during the holidays as he recovers from a brutal 12-round split-decision draw againstAnthony Dirrell in December. Bika, who holds the WBC super middleweight title, wants to take on Carl Foch, who holds the WBA and IBF titles.

Reunion at Dragons

Adam Quinlan and Dylan Farrell were once junior teammates at Culburra; now they hope to reignite their junior football partnership in the NRL at St George Illawarra. Farrell joined Quinlan at the Dragons after four years at South Sydney. Quinlan, who played 10 top-grade games for the Dragons last year, said Farrell had helped him in his bid to become a regular top-grade player. ''I grew up with him,'' Quinlan said. ''He has been helping me out and pushing me a bit. It's good to have been reunited again. Pre-season has been tough but it's been a different set-up … which has been great.''

Roos minus Sheens

The Australian rugby league coaching job is vacant after Tim Sheens' contract as head coach expired. Sheens has been on a year-to-year deal since taking over the Kangaroos from Ricky Stuart in 2009. He became Australia's first full-time mentor last year after being sacked as Wests Tigers coach. He and Australian officials will meet this month to discuss his position, but it is understood Sheens does not see the position as a long-term gig. However, it is difficult not be impressed by Sheens' results at the World Cup. The tournament culminated in perhaps Australia's best-ever performance, with a 34-2 win against New Zealand.

Kiwis probe pill use

The fallout from the Kiwis' disappointing rugby league World Cup loss to the Kangaroos continues. Fairfax Media revealed last week the New Zealand Rugby League is investigating whether players misused prescription drugs during the event. Prescription drug abuse dates to at least 2009, when Queensland players were accused of mixing Red Bull with sleep medication Stilnox. Aside from the well-documented Billy Slater and Josh Papalii incidents, the Australians generally kept a low profile.

Danny Weidler is on annual leave

This story An earlier start? Give it a bash first appeared on WA Today.