Smith, SuperSport And The ‘mini-IPL’

Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Smith, SuperSport and the 'mini-IPL'. Representative Image: The IPL bandwagon rolls into SA again... well somewhat

Smith, SuperSport And The ‘mini-IPL’Representative Image: The IPL bandwagon rolls into SA again... well somewhat

Which came first, Graeme Smith's return to CSA as the commissioner of their new T20 league? Or CSA doing enough to secure IPL owners for the league? The announcement that Smith was back was made on Monday, and the owners were unveiled on Tuesday. But simple chronology is not a reliable indicator: both were no doubt in the making for months.

Besides, with CSA nothing is simple. Cricbuzz exclusively revealed the six franchise owners on Monday. CSA, who had earlier said they would finalise that part of the process by the end of the month, declined to comment for the purposes of the piece. Only to confirm the story a day later, after significant figures in the game in South Africa had wondered to themselves whether it was accurate.

Smith's tenure as CSA's director of cricket ended in March when he declined to renew his contract. Small wonder. His appointment in December 2019 was a red flag for a dangerous faction of the game displeased by the displacement of the diseased order that had dragged cricket to a governance and financial precipice. They attacked Smith at every turn, and were thrashed at every turn.

Lost in all that was the fact that, in the real world, Smith has the credibility CSA sorely lack. If you were anyone, nevermind an IPL franchise owner, who would you rather trust: someone you've seen score big runs against the game's best bowlers and captain teams in inspiring fashion, or a bunch of greedy, corrupt suits who are only ever in the headlines for the wrong reasons? Even if Smith's presence was not a prerequisite for the IPL owners, it wouldn't have hurt.

Similarly, that renowned broadcasters SuperSport have been part of the league package since the start as equity partners will have reassured prospective owners that, this time, the third instance of CSA trying to grab a slice of the T20 cake, they are serious.

That's not to contend Smith and SuperSport are without blemish. Major entities in any field can be prone to throwing their weight around in damaging ways. But, seen from outside the often bilious bubble of cricket in South Africa, Smith and SuperSport are adults in this room. CSA? Not so much. That's unfair, because much has changed for the better since the old administration was jettisoned. But not enough.

The organisation that should have learnt the lessons of their decision to revoke five journalists' accreditation in December 2019 – sponsors walked away, media freedom watchdogs leapt – have, in the past few days, banned questions at press conferences. Reporters covering the national men's team have been told they are not allowed to ask about CSA's withdrawal from an ODI series in Australia in January. The press have also been barred from enquiring about Lizelle Lee's shock retirement last week. At best, such behaviour is churlish. At worst, it's an indication that the rotten culture that has landed South African cricket in so much trouble in the past is rudely alive and unfortunately well, and still getting in the way of progress.

But it's to CSA's credit that they have managed to advance their ambition to establish their league, which is set for January, in an economy that can't even keep the lights on: thanks to ageing infrastructure built solely for whites now having to serve all, and subsequent years of government corruption, South Africans endure routine rolling blackouts for hours on end.

So it will be no small feat should CSA pull off what would amount to a mini-IPL. Some are using that term in a diminishing, dismissive sense. Closer to the truth is that a country like South Africa should be grateful to be in such company.

In a self-aggrandising release on Wednesday, Reliance Industries, the Mumbai Indians owners who will add a CSA franchise in Cape Town to their existing T20 property in the planned UAE league, tub-thumped about “strengthening [their] growing international footprint in cricket” and “playing a crucial role in evolving the sports ecosystem through ownership of cricket franchises, football league in India, sports sponsorship, consultancy, and athlete talent management, and bringing in industry best practices”. Akash Ambani, who chairs Reliance Jio, which bills itself as India's biggest 4G network provider, was quoted as “[looking] forward to leveraging our expertise and depth of knowledge in the cricket ecosystem”.

We can debate whether any of this would have happened without Smith and SuperSport, but we know CSA's league wouldn't amount to anything it's been cracked up to be without the money and know-how that will come from its Indian connections. And that, without the long-term stability and sustainability promised by the league, the cricket industry would likely have withered in a society as fragile, fractious and failing as South Africa's. Hello IPL. Please stay.

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