SA board hopes to get third time lucky with franchise T20 league
After cutting down on its Test calendar and having risked ODI World Cup qualification, Cricket South Africa knows it can’t afford to fail with the league starting on Tuesday.
South African cricket is getting ready to throw a big party. Or so the promos for SA20 say. Cricket South Africa’s new T20 league starts on Tuesday. The name maybe catchy, but it’s essentially an IPL off-shoot. The sights and sounds are South African but all the six franchise owners are those who run teams in IPL.
“It’s been trying to happen for the last two years, finally they have got it going,” said big-hitter David Miller, who will lead Paarl Royals. “I look at all the other leagues around the world and what it has done to their cricketers. This competition will definitely fast track the learning of the (younger) guys at the higher level.”
The man behind the wheels is former South Africa skipper Graeme Smith. “We’ve the opportunity now through our partners to put 60 to 80 South African players on the map and bring that fandom to India. The new heroes will come to IPL and play for South Africa all around the world, that’s out goal,” Smith, the league commissioner, said.
“We have a great time zone and a great cricketing history. We are not looking to be an 8-10-12 or a 14-week tournament, we think that four to five weeks every year can really make a big impact in the cricketing calendar,” he added.
There’s a reason Smith brings up time zone and calendar. One of the deliverables for the franchise owners would be to find traction in India. They will be keeping tab on viewership numbers and seeking brand consolidation. Calendar matters because SA20 will be played in the busiest month in cricket. It will direct compete with ILT20 (UAE T20 league) – it begins on Jan 13 - which also has involvement of IPL owners. The Big Bash league is being played in Australia. More importantly, from an Indian viewership standpoint, Sri Lanka and New Zealand will be playing bilateral cricket in India.
“Some of the advantages we have over the other leagues is that we have natural homegrown talents. We have a fan base that loves cricket and that’s just waiting to be revived again,” Smith said.
The absence of Indian players limits the reach of the tournament but that is something non-Indian leagues have learnt to live with. Viacom 18, IPL digital media rights holders, will beam the league to Indian homes. One learns, it is spending around $10 million-a-year ( ₹80 crore). For IPL rights, it paid over ₹4,750 crore, annually. The total team salary purse for SA20 is in the range of $1.9 million (Rs15.6 cr). In IPL, it’s scaled up to ₹95 crore.
But the talent base the league possesses is good thanks to the quality of white-ball players currently in South African cricket. Tristan Stubbs, the highest priced player ( ₹4.3 crore), will look to make an impression for Sunrisers Eastern Cape, aware that it may earn him a regular berth in the playing eleven of Mumbai Indians in a few months. Dewald Brevis, David Miller, Quinton de Kock, Rassie van der Dussen, Faf du Plessis, Dwaine Pretorius, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada, the list of South African players featuring in both the leagues is long.
SHORTER TEST CALENDAR
The promos are loud and jazzy. South African cricketers who usually take a backseat during IPL are at the front and centre. But all this comes at a price. It’s not lost on anyone that the start of the league comes on the back of South Africa’s 0-2 Test series loss to Australia. The league itself is able to begin now because South Africa agreed to forgo Super League points by dropping a bilateral series against Australia. The league will take a break for a week at the month end to accommodate an ODI series against England.
Test cricket is no longer going to be South Africa’s priority. Five other teams will be playing more Tests, according to the Future Tours Programme for the next four years.
South African cricket is on to a white-ball expedition in search of rands. After two previous false starts in launching the T20 league, it knows it can’t afford to fail.