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The brave new world of cricket in South Africa is a source of hope and concern.



This is because of what appears to be a brazen attitude to ensure that it succeeds at all costs. There is context to explain this. Previous attempts to introduce a T20 competition foundered. A T20 Global League was established by Cricket South Africa in 2017, but it lacked both a broadcast deal and a title sponsor, so was deferred. In its place, a Mzansi Super League emerged in 2018. Matches were played between six CSA-owned teams in November and December. A second edition was played in 2019 but the 2020 and 2021 editions were cancelled, ostensibly because of COVID-19.

However, another factor played its part. SuperSport is CSA’s domestic broadcast partner and its support for a T20 league is vital. This could not be agreed in 2017. CSA argued that the tournament represented new business outside the existing agreement. SuperSport disagreed and an alternative broadcaster could not be found.

When the Mzansi league was being developed, CSA and SuperSport failed to reach an agreement on equity shares, leaving a broadcasting vacuum. This gap was filled by the South African Broadcasting Corporation on free-to-air but for little money. Without private investment, the league was economically unsustainable, costing around $5.5 million to operate per edition.

Armed with these salutary lessons, CSA established SA20 in 2022 through the corporate medium of Africa Cricket Development (Pty) Ltd. Fifty percent is owned by CSA, SuperSport has 30 percent, with the balance held by a former Indian Premier League chief operating officer. The Indian connection was further cemented by the purchase of all six teams by IPL franchisees. It is not surprising, therefore, that a deal was struck by CSA to broadcast SA20 in India. This was announced in November 2022 and is with Viacom18, a joint venture between Network 18, backed by Reliance Industry Ltd., James Murdoch-Uday Shankar’s Bodhi Tree Systems, and Viacom CBS. What is impressive is its 10-year duration, understood to be worth close to $10 million per year, or around $300,000 per match. So CSA went from bust to boom in six years.

The deal ensured that SA20 generated a profit in its first year compared with previous forecasts of breakeven after four to five years. This all comes at a price.

Match schedules need to fit with Indian prime time. More critically, South African cricket has been subjugated to SA20. Centrally contracted players must prioritize playing in SA20 over representing South Africa. Even more controversially, CSA has selected an understrength squad for a two-match Test series in February in New Zealand. As reported last week, condemnation from former players abounded, amongst fears that Test cricket’s already uncertain future is being further undermined.

These fears were exacerbated by the events at Newlands, Cape Town, in the second Test match between South Africa and India, commencing on Jan. 3 and ending on Jan. 4. Records, most of them unwanted, were broken. It was the shortest-ever Test match — 107 overs and 642 balls where a winner was determined. There was a fall of the most wickets (six) without a run being scored. Dean Elgar was dismissed twice on the same day in his final Test. This had not happened since 1890. Another South African, Aiden Markram, scored 60.22 percent of his side’s second innings score, beating a previous high of 59.89 percent.

The pitch was deemed unsatisfactory by the match referee.

Newlands is one of the world’s most iconic cricket grounds. Its infrastructure has undergone substantial redevelopment that, reportedly, requires annual debt servicing of over $1 million. The Western Province Cricket Association, which owns Newlands, is in serious financial difficulties. At the end of October 2023, CSA officials met with WPCA representatives to offer financial injections amounting to almost $1.4 million.

One consequence of this WPCA financial position was a decision to outsource pitch and ground curation. Whilst not doubting the caliber of the curators, Newlands is not their only place of work. It is understood that the Test match pitch was used in SA20, 2023 when Newlands received complaints for slow pitches. After the recent Test ended, curators were at work on neighboring pitches in preparation for SA20 matches. The pitch for the first Test at Gauteng was not a good one either but escaped censure.

Over the last decade or so, South African cricket has been riven by factions and allegations of financial irregularities, leading to dysfunctionality. SA20 is a silver bullet to address this.

Apologists will argue that the competition will inject funds into South African cricket, helping the game grow. There were sold-out stadiums in 2023. The league’s commissioner, a highly successful former captain, claims that the tournament has revived the spirit of cricket in South Africa. There is hope that it will have the same impact in developing young players that the IPL has had in India.

The CSA is intent on giving the tournament the best possible chance to succeed, based on the mandated availability of the best South Africans, to the obvious detriment of the Test team.

Faced with disaster, it unashamedly adopted a modern mechanism, franchise cricket, as its centerfold.

Critics will say that being in thrall to Indian franchisees, devaluing Test cricket, having a title sponsor in Betway, and recruiting a low proportion of non-white South Africans in the squads, means that CSA, via SA20, has surrendered to cricket’s new direction of travel. This glitzy, consumer-focused world does not respect tradition, least of all South Africa’s heritage as the third-longest Test-playing nation.

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