Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Upcoming domestic season a moment of truth for cricket in South Africa. Starting from 2021-22 summer, the franchises will be disbanded and domestic cricket will revert to a provincial model
Starting from 2021-22 summer, the franchises will be disbanded and domestic cricket will revert to a provincial model
Don't look now, cricket-minded South Africans, but the domestic season is upon us. You weren't planning on looking? More's the pity. Because the summer of 2021/22 could spark the change the game in this country so desperately needs. Or not.
For the past 17 seasons South Africa's major competitions have been contested by six franchise teams, which were cobbled together from the 11 provincial unions that had previously represented the highest domestic level. Cricket will go back to the future on Friday with a T20 knockout tournament that will involve 15 provincial teams and the national under-19 side.
This season's first-class and one-day competitions will feature the 15 provincial sides – split into two divisions – while the resurrected Mzansi Super League (MSL) will be restricted to the eight teams in the top division: Boland, Eastern Province, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Coastal, North West, Northerns and Western Province (WP). The second division will comprise Border, Easterns, KZN Inland, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and South Western Districts (SWD). With the exceptions of Boland and North West, the top tier mirrors the bigger partners in the franchises that have been dissolved – things have, largely, stayed the same. And they will do for two seasons: the promotion and relegation component of the new structure won't come into effect until after the 2023/24 campaign.
But, this being South Africa, it's not as simple as that. For one thing, 11 of the 21 second-division four-day matches will not be recognised as first-class. These games involve Limpopo or Mpumalanga, who have each played only eight matches at that level and none since 2006/07. For another thing, the country has, in geopolitical terms, nine provinces. How do we get from nine provinces to 15 provincial teams? By cramming the provinces with more than one team. The Western Cape is home to WP, Boland and SWD; Gauteng to Gauteng, Northerns and Easterns; KZN to the Coastal and Inland sides, and the Eastern Cape to Eastern Province (EP) and Border. Only Free State, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and North West – the least populated provinces – have one team each.
That's not the end of the complications. Some of those sides have opted to keep the names of the franchises of which they used to be part. Gauteng will play as the Lions, Northerns as the Titans, KZN Coastal as the Dolphins, Free State as the Knights and EP as the Warriors.
Other teams have invented new monikers. Boland would prefer to be known as the Rocks, Border as the Iinyathi, Easterns as the Storm, KZN Inland as the Tuskers, Limpopo as the Impalas, Northern Cape as the Heat, North West as the Dragons, and Mpumalanga as the Rhinos.
Only SWD and WP will be dear old SWD and WP – the former because a competition that the provincial board ran in the community to come up with a snappy name didn't yield the desired result, and the latter chiefly because the feeling at Newlands is that WP is a strong enough identity. Indeed, some among the suits believe the Cobras brand, which the union was part of, detracted from what is represented by WP.
It's a decent argument, and it asks an important question: the public didn't warm to the teams created for the franchise era, so why do some unions want to retain the mostly uneasy memory of entities that no longer exist? And why have most of the other unions dreamt up other fake names when cricket has proved to itself that loyalty cannot be conjured by marketing departments? Didn't those guilty of both these blunders get the memo that the franchises failed, not least because they represented nothing and no-one beyond logos? Little wonder ever fewer cricket-minded South Africans notice when the domestic season comes around.
Even so, some of the new branding makes sense. The Rocks echo the success that the Boland-based Paarl Rocks earned by winning the 2019 MSL; Iinyathi is the isiXhosa word for buffalo, a well-known emblem in the Border region; spectacular electrical storms are common in summer in Benoni, Easterns' home; and it is indeed oppressively hot in Kimberley, where Northern Cape play.
But why not call yourself what you are, if only to avoid confusing your supporters? Those keeping tabs on KZN Inland, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West would be forgiven for skipping straight past reports and scorecards of matches played by the Tuskers, Impalas, Rhinos and Dragons. You could remedy the situation, but only by spending a lot of marketing money that smaller unions – and all of those immediately above are small – don't have.
For all that, there is reason to be hopeful that cricket in South Africa is on the verge of an age of repair and improvement after years of neglect and damage. Weird names aside, the teams will represent real regions and their people. There will be more opportunities for players to catch the national selectors' eyes, even if the focus stays firmly on the first division. More matches, in every format, will be broadcast on television, albeit not on the free-to-air service. Viewers will have the option of commentary in isiXhosa, the first language of many more South Africans – and therefore of many more South African cricketers – than those whose mother tongue is English or Afrikaans. Stand by, isiXhosa speakers, for the delight of the views of Makhaya Ntini, Mfuneko Ngam and Monde Zondeki unfiltered through English.
There will be concern that the changes haven't been enough to retain the services of Hashim Amla and Vernon Philander, who were to have played for WP. Philander will be Pakistan's bowling coach for the T20 WC while Amla, who played for Surrey this winter, hasn't announced plans for the summer.
But there will also be keen interest in whether erstwhile minnows Boland become WP's noisy neighbours under new coach Adrian Birrell, especially with Kolpak returnees Stiaan van Zyl, Hardus Viljoen and Kyle Abbott on their books and Janneman and Pieter Malan having signed on.
North West have done well to secure the services of Dwaine Pretorius and Heino Kuhn, and the spotlight will be on another Kolpak couple, Duanne Olivier and Simon Harmer, at Gauteng and Northerns.
No-one can say whether the restructure will have the desired outcome of a healthier domestic system and thus a stronger international set-up. But, for the first time in 18 seasons, cricket in South Africa will look itself in the eye and see who and what it really is. That is a precious commodity without which no real progress can be made. Without reality, dreams can't come true.