Cape Town – There’s nothing quite like the injection of some conquering heroes to enhance a sporting tournament and keep the marketers and bean-counters happy.
Throw in the tried and trusted South African adage of “local is lekker” and the limited-overs-specialist Proteas are now set over the next few days to become a vital boost to the maiden Mzansi Super League.
It got off to a positive enough start on Friday when Newlands was not far off two-thirds full for the launch game between the Cape Town Blitz and Tshwane Spartans – remember that a chilly south-westerly wind and swirling clouds didn’t make the venue too enticing a prospect to any wavering souls – and the cricket was of a suitably bright standard, too.
But domestic lovers of the game also have a time-honoured habit, at least at certain grounds, of pitching up in solid numbers if national players are going to be part of the action … a reasonably rare event at franchise level these days.
So the big Capetonian kick-off to the MSL wasn’t exactly aided by the lingering obligation of the Proteas in Australia, after completion of their deserved 2-1 triumph in the one-day international series.
Several further days -- a little irritatingly -- passed before the once-off Twenty20 international was played at the Gold Coast on Saturday, and Faf du Plessis and company ensured a satisfying little series double by earning a polished, disciplined 21-run triumph in a contest slashed by half to 10 overs a side by rain in the immediate lead-up.
So a buzzing group of the country’s “cream” players step onto the long-haul flight on Sunday to be swiftly dispersed among the six, newly-shaped sides in the much-discussed T20 competition.
Already the early-released veteran (and decidedly in-form) strike bowler Dale Steyn is expected to grace the Blitz’s second match against Durban Heat at Kingsmead on Sunday; he’s always worth some extra bums on stadium seats or TV-room couches.
But by the time the next salvo of games takes place from early in the new week, local crowds will get the opportunity to appreciatively welcome back the remainder of the national players countrywide; they will hugely help to spread the gospel, as it were, of the MSL for the remainder of the roster to the showpiece on December 16.
The Proteas again outsmarted and out-skilled their Aussie foes in the T20 encounter at Carrara Oval, even if a “micro” edition of a game in that already short format becomes even more like a frantic lottery.
They did so, too, despite the considerable disadvantage of losing the toss and being asked to bat first – seldom the desirable route to go in such circumstances when pacing a chase is easier to mastermind.
South Africa got off to a flyer from no-nonsense, quickly clean-hitting opening batsmen Quinton de Kock and Reeza Hendricks and then skipper Du Plessis, from the No 3 berth, also ensured breezy momentum to the scoreboard before the tempo just tapered off a little in the closing overs.
Debatably, the hard-hitting player of the just-ended ODI series, David Miller, was held back to the extent that he only took guard with three overs left and for once could not muster a fitting head of steam for himself.
But if nobody really had any scientific clue during the interval of whether the Proteas’ 108 for six represented a secure enough slog-fest, that became apparent fairly soon after the embattled Australians began their reply.
Not for the first time on tour, South Africa’s quickies made early breakthroughs, while showing necessary accuracy and variety to go with their zest, and by halfway the writing was more or less on the wall as a consequence.
The standout performers among a more than professional, intense bowling collective were two men who had kicked their heels during the ODIs and looked chuffed to have this desperately brief gallop … Chris Morris and Tabraiz Shamsi, which really only adds to the cupboard of attractive candidates in that department for World Cup berths next year.
*Here is a reminder of who, among the Proteas squad flying homeward on Sunday, will be going where with some haste in the MSL:
Jozi Stars: Kagiso Rabada, Reeza Hendricks, Dwaine Pretorius
Durban Heat: David Miller, Heinrich Klaasen
Cape Town Blitz: Quinton de Kock, Andile Phehlukwayo, Farhaan Behardien
Paarl Rocks: Faf du Plessis, Tabraiz Shamsi, Aiden Markram
Tshwane Spartans: Lungi Ngidi
Nelson Mandela Bay Giants: Imran Tahir, Chris Morris
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing