South Africans were celebrating the imminent arrival of the Indian Premier League (IPL) with almost the same gusto as they did when it was announced that the 2010 football World Cup would be staged in the country.
<b1>Although the rumour had gathered so much pace by the close of business on Monday that it seemed impossible for it not to be true, the confirmation on Tuesday from IPL commissioner Lalit Modi and Cricket South Africa chief executive Gerald Majola still came as a shock to many.
“I’m absolutely flabbergasted that it has actually happened,” said Kepler Wessels, last year’s coach of the Chennai Super Kings.
“When I first heard the rumour I assumed it was a joke, but over the last three or four days, I obviously knew it was a serious possibility… but I still never thought it would happen. It’s fantastic for South African cricket but a great pity for the Indian fans.”
So many of the fundamental logistics of the 59-match tournament still have to be finalised but it seems certain that each franchise will have its own base rather than sharing the country’s premier venues. The country’s five major Test venues — Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Centurion and Port Elizabeth — are guaranteed hosts, as is the next largest ground in Bloemfontein.
But in terms of bases, two franchises will be based in smaller towns with smaller stadiums. East London, Kimberley, Benoni and Potchefstroom were all desperately hoping for a slice of the IPL pie.
“We see this as a fantastic opportunity to spread the game, not just centralise it in the major centres,” Ahmed Jinnah, president, Griqualand West, said from Kimberley. “This development is so exciting. We are hopeful that all of us will have the opportunity to stage games. There are 59 of them to share around, after all.”
Northerns chief executive Elize Lombaard admitted that major franchises like hers based in Centurion would benefit “…very appreciably”.
“We were all asked to submit our costings to the IPL and obviously they were very acceptable, much cheaper than somewhere like England,” she said. “The financial arrangements still need to be finalised but we are looking at a windfall that will make a significant difference to all of us.”
Like everyone else involved in South African cricket, she had followed the inaugural season in India — televised here in its entirety —- with close interest and, based on performances, was hoping that either the Chennai Super Kings or the Rajasthan Royals would make Centurion their home for the five-week event.
"I don’t foresee ticket prices being too expensive and I’m certain that we will be able to attract really good crowds,” she said.
“It won’t be the same as if the tournament was in India but South Africa made a great success of the first Twenty20 World Cup and there’s no reason we can’t do the same again with the IPL.”
Eastern Cape Warriors chief executive Dave Emslie was similarly bullish about the likelihood of St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth making a success of the tournament. “South Africans love Twenty20 cricket and we’ll do everything in our power to entice people to come to the games,” he said.