Sydney Sixers are firming as the likely Big Bash League destination for AB de Villiers, as part of a package deal with Cricket Australia and broadcasters that may be worth more than AUD350,000 for a stint at the back end of next summer's tournament.
CA and broadcasters both confirmed to BBL clubs that they would offer financial assistance to help secure de Villiers' signature ahead of a season where the men's ODI team will be absent from Australia during a chunk of January - CA's contribution understood to be up to $50,000 in return for marketing services. The Sixers appear to have the inside running for reasons over and above than the playing, marketing and broadcasting deal they are able to piece together for the South African and his management.
Most BBL clubs are believed to have been interested in signing de Villiers up - Adelaide Strikers would have had he been available for the whole season - and submitted offers last week, with Sydney Thunder's proposal strengthened by the salary cap room afforded to them by the retirement of Shane Watson, who will restrict himself to shorter overseas T20 jaunts rather than the longer and more demanding BBL schedule.
However, the Sixers have a couple of advantages not able to be found elsewhere. Not only will de Villiers have a friend and former team-mate on hand in Morne Morkel, who will be spending six months of the year in Sydney with his family, he will be able to play home games at the SCG, the venue of his memorable 162 from 66 balls for South Africa against the West Indies at the 2015 World Cup.
"We would be absolutely delighted to have AB join the Sixers and have made an offer for this summer," Sixers general manager Jodie Hawkins told ESPNcricinfo. "We understand there are a number of BBL clubs wanting to welcome AB, but we believe we offer him a great option to experience the Big Bash, living in Sydney by the beach, playing at one of his favourite grounds, the SCG, and just enjoying what Sydney offers in summer, that's a pretty good proposition. He'd also be great working with some of our young stars like Josh Philippe, and meeting our incredible fans."
Ad hoc high profile signings with financial assistance from CA and broadcasters such as Fox Sports have been a part of the BBL's history, most notably Shane Warne and Kevin Pietersen with Melbourne Stars, and the news that the Australian ODI team would be pressed to honour a pre-existing commitment to tour India next January has helped add impetus to the push to secure de Villiers for at least part of the next competition.
But the creation of a more equitable marquee system for high profile international names remains strongly desired by numerous clubs, while others within the Australian system would prefer an auction for overseas players. The Australian Cricketers Association has blocked attempts by CA to add one more overseas place to BBL playing lists for next summer, arguing that the length of the tournament is a greater barrier to the world's best players taking part rather than the money or squad positions available.
Andrew McDonald, coach of the tournament-winning Melbourne Renegades, told ESPNcricinfo earlier this year that the BBL's credibility demanded a more even system for high profile overseas players. "I think the only way you could do that is to have a marquee [fund]," McDonald said in February. "[CA] is talking to us. Everyone is talking essentially. Our CEO is talking to us as coaches, that's going back up to Cricket Australia.
"We've identified that there is a problem or a potential problem, if we don't get it right going forward. I think the only way to do it is if we have eight marquee spots available, get 16 players from around the world to nominate, and then you have a marquee draft. Just have a lottery draft. Pull the Melbourne Stars out of the hat first, whoever out of the hat second and they pick eight marquee players, and those marquee players have to sign up for the entirety of the tournament."
The Stars and Melbourne Renegades are among other clubs believed to be heavily interested in de Villiers, but there is also a parallel competition to secure Andre Russell, whose star has shone evermore brightly in this year's IPL, resulting in his recall to the West Indies ODI team for the World Cup in England later this year.
Other BBL recruiting moves are afoot, with Fawad Ahmed set to join the Perth Scorchers to form a spin bowling tandem with Ashton Agar, and the West Australian paceman Nathan Coulter-Nile likely to be unveiled by the Melbourne Stars among their signings for 2019-20.