AB de Villiers has decided to skip the upcoming Big Bash League campaign with Brisbane Heat due to family and COVID-19 related issues.

Uncertainty around international travel restrictions as De Villiers and his wife prepare for the birth of their third child played a significant role in the former South Africa batsman pulling out.

The 36-year-old scored 146 runs in six appearances in the 2019-20 BBL – the first time he had participated in the competition – as the Heat failed to qualify for the finals for the third time in succession.

De Villiers, who is currently participating in the Indian Premier League, hopes to get another chance to play for Brisbane as he feels there is "unfinished business".

"We're expecting our latest child very soon and with a young, growing family and the uncertainty around travel conditions due to COVID-19, we reluctantly decided it wasn't going to be this season," De Villiers said.

"The Heat were great to us last season and I am very open to returning to the club in future. The team didn't get the results we were hoping for and I consider there is some unfinished business to deal with."

Heat head coach Darren Lehmann added: "We've been in regular contact with AB since last season and while things initially looked fine for him to come back, there have been a few factors emerge which have changed everyone's plans.

"The main one, aside from the challenges represented by COVID-19 and international travel, is that AB and his wife Danielle are expecting their third child very soon.

"Naturally we're very pleased for them and know that the next few months will be a very special time for all."

There was some positive news for the Heat on Tuesday, however, as they announced the return of spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman, the world number two T20I bowler, for the 2020-21 BBL.

The Big Bash League is due to start on December 3 with a clash between Adelaide Strikers and Melbourne Renegades.

Former Australia coach Darren Lehmann will undergo heart bypass surgery on Saturday.

Lehmann was on the Gold Coast watching his son, Jake, captain a Cricket Australia XI against the England Lions on the Gold Coast when he suffered chest pains.

The ex-Australia batsman, who turned 50 on Wednesday, is recovering in hospital and will be operated on this weekend.

Lehmann said: "I would like to thank everyone in the Australian cricket family for their concern.

"I am receiving the best of medical care and am confident I'll be back on my feet soon."

Lehmann, who has been coaching Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash League, took time out from his role as Australia coach in January 2016 after he was hospitalised with deep vein thrombosis.

Steve Smith will make a long-awaited Big Bash League return and AB de Villiers should ignite the Brisbane Heat in a shortened tournament with a new finals format.

Smith, the best Test batsman in the world, will feature in the competition for the first time since 2014 after rejoining the Sydney Sixers.

Maverick former South Africa batsman De Villiers will make his BBL debut for a Heat side who have been installed as bookmakers' favourites, with former Australia boss Darren Lehmann returning as head coach.

The Melbourne Renegades are expected to mount a strong challenge to retain a title they won in February with a derby defeat of Melbourne Stars, who have will Dale Steyn in their attack for six matches.

There will also be a welcome return for Glenn Maxwell, back in action for the Stars after taking a break to deal with personal mental health issues.

Here, we examine teams and players to look out for and explain changes to the schedule for the 2019-20 edition, which gets under way when the Heat face the Thunder at The Gabba on Tuesday.

 

FINALS REVAMP PART OF SCHEDULE CHANGE

There were calls for change due to dwindling crowds in an eighth edition of the tournament that dragged on too long.

Cricket Australia has taken note of criticism, reducing the length of the competition from 54 to 42 days and revamping the finals format.

There will be 15 days with two matches played in order to cut the length of the BBL.

Five of the eight teams will reach the finals rather than four, with the sides in first and second place at the end of the regular season having two chances to reach the final.

 

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER FOR SMITH

Sixers fans have had to wait a long time to see Smith in their side and they will have to hope his arrival does not come when their title chances are over.

The former Australia captain, part of the Sixers squad that won the inaugural Big Bash in January 2012, will not be available until the back end of the competition due to Australia commitments.

Josh Hazlewood is also scheduled to join the Sixers after featuring for Australia following the Test series against New Zealand and ODIs in India, with the hope he will be fully fit after suffering a hamstring injury in the first Test against the Black Caps.

 

MARSH AND NEW COACH CAN HELP RENEGADES KLING ON TO TITLE

Michael Klinger took over as Renegades coach after Andrew McDonald was appointed Australia assistant coach in October.

McDonald will be a hard act to follow, but the addition of batsman Shaun Marsh is a big coup for the defending champions.

Disciplined bowling was key to their maiden BBL triumph and they have managed to retain left-arm seamer Harry Gurney, while big things will be expected of Kane Richardson once again.

 

HEAT SHOULD WARM TO THE TASK UNDER LEHMANN

Brisbane handed Lehmann his first role coaching role since he quit as Australia boss following the Newlands ball-tampering scandal in March 2018. Lehmann was cleared of involvement in that ploy.

Lehmann, who replaces Daniel Vettori, oversaw the Heat's 2012-13 Big Bash title success and it would be no surprise if he celebrates a repeat.

De Villiers will make his debut for Brisbane, while explosive England batsman Tom Banton, Ben Laughlin, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Zahir Khan are also exciting additions.

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