Could SA do its own Big Bash?

2014-02-07 10:18
Paul Adams (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Piggy-backing good ideas doesn’t always work, of course.

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 similar model.

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 Australian standard.

“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 seems ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    paul adams  |  cricket

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