Cape Town – Piggy-backing good ideas doesn’t always work, of
But considering the success in its third year of Australia’s
Twenty20 Big Bash League, it is worth examining whether South Africa might be
able to rejuvenate its own slightly labouring T20 competition – it should at
least get a full-house final at Newlands on Sunday -- through a reasonably
The Australian and South African domestic landscapes are
strikingly similar: the two biggest southern hemisphere powers in the game have
three major competitions and two of them (the four-day first-class and 50-overs
ones) each feature six state – or “franchise” in our case – teams.
But a crucial difference lies in the way the Aussies now
structure their main money-spinner, the T20 competition.
Three years ago they broke down the six state-based sides
for T20 purposes, changing the teams to eight clearly city-identifiable
franchises, including two each for the major metropolises of Sydney (Thunder
and Sixers) and Melbourne (Renegades and Stars) which have helped create derby
spirit and the like.
Televised on SuperSport in South Africa, the 2013/14 Big
Bash has had a rather painfully more vibrant, electric feel to it than the RAM
SLAM T20 Challenge equivalent, which has still had its moments – the rare
availability of a good sprinkling of international players having helped – but struggled
for healthy attendances at some venues.
Several of the Aussie teams boast continuous upward trends
in crowd figures, by contrast, and they have also laid on the various,
associated “bells and whistles” – making pitching up at the games vitally appealing
to broader audiences than just outright cricket-lovers – more lavishly.
There was even talk in 2012 that further teams be added to
represent cities like Canberra, Newcastle and Gold Coast, but it was deemed
unviable for the time being.
In 2011/12, Cricket South Africa, in fairness, did try
something different by introducing a new team, the New Age Impi, but it was a
notably failed experiment: they were winless, lame ducks competitively in their
lone campaign and largely made up of spill-over players from the six core
franchises with no strong regional identity.
That was a particularly crippling factor and I recall one
witty blogger writing: “Their fan group consisted of family members and
misguided Johnny Clegg fans.”
But could South Africa feasibly expand its own T20
competition to eight teams, perhaps also with the new marketing and PR
potential that would come with the Highveld Lions morphing into the “Jo’burg
Lightning” or the Cape Cobras becoming, say, the “Cape Town Southeasters” in
the game’s shortest format?
The big provisos would
be whether the country would boast the depth of credible enough talent to
sustain two extra sides, and just as importantly, which regions (or cities)
should be the beneficiaries.
In the first respect, Paul Adams, coach of the log-topping
Cobras this season and seeking the silverware in Sunday’s showpiece against the
David Miller-supercharged Dolphins (14:30), made the good point on Thursday
that the Aussie competition is flush enough to be able to include many more
overseas big names than its SA equivalent.
Such personalities recently have included Sri Lankans like
Lasith Malinga, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis and Tillakaratne Dilshan,
English players Alex Hales, Craig Kieswetter and Jos Buttler, and our own Johan
Botha and Alfonso Thomas.
“(Strengthening local sides that way) depends on the
financial state of the franchises concerned, and a big drawback is probably the
weakness of the rand to the dollar right now,” Adams told Sport24, while
enthusing over the qualities West Indian Sunil Narine briefly brought the
Cobras’ party recently.
“Look, certain grounds here are pulling in the crowds and
others have been low ... Newlands is one, obviously, that’s been right up there
among the best, also Centurion, and I even saw queues for the first time in
ages lining up at Paarl recently.
“I suppose when there’s a great hype and energy around
particular teams then people want to go and watch them. Our international
players made a massive impact on that; it’s tough hoping that will happen all
the time in future, because obviously the Indian tour being cut short allowed
that to happen this season.”
In-form, massively experienced Cobras all-rounder Justin Kemp
has mixed feelings also about a move toward the Aussie template: “It’s a tough
one, because here in Cape Town we do get good crowds, even if not to the
“I hope I don’t get into trouble for saying this, too, but
we also have two home grounds (at Newlands and Paarl) so it can be difficult
for people to know where you are playing, and so on. I do feel personally that
your team should really be affiliated to just one ground ... you don’t see the
rugby players playing at various different home grounds. So that could help.
“Look, cricket has had a couple of bad years (in South
Africa) with scandals and so on, and it’s just about getting people through the
gates and reminding them they’ll get good-quality cricket – this season’s RAM
SLAM has been boosted a huge amount by having international players available.
“It’s a whole marketing concept they must come up with to
get people watching in numbers again because you are right, there’s generally
been a decrease in people going to games – I’m thinking somewhere like Jo’burg
where you’ve got a great ground (Wanderers) but often only 2,000 people going
through the gate.
“It’s a bit of a letdown and there are certainly things to
think about; I suppose it’s a mystery in many ways how you get attendances up.
“People would have to do the maths to see if the Aussie way can
be made to work here ... I don’t know if our cricket-watching base is as big.”
Should South African contemplate expanding, and renaming the
T20 franchises to give a “city” feel, centres that might benefit,
hypothetically, would be Paarl – creating a second Western Cape side, where the
bulk of crowd support lies – and perhaps through a split of the Warriors
franchise back into separate Port Elizabeth and East London units, also
fostering a derby factor.
A third Highveld side, based at Benoni or Potchefstroom,
might also be an option.
But money remains a notably obstacle to such dreams, it
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