Cape Town - The 2018/19 South African cricket season, which
gets into full swing with the Proteas playing their first home fixture at relatively
sleepy Kimberley on Sunday, shapes increasingly as the most perilous yet of the
“Shapes as”? Maybe I am even being kind.
The summer has enormous challenges, frighteningly few
Without wishing to get too doom-laden or dramatic, the
possibility of a full-scale “crash and burn”, with very serious longer-term
consequences, cannot be ruled out.
At the core of the instability lies the deeply
controversial, trimmed new “SA T20 League” with a supposed, all-important
The route toward it (now a sobering, mere 40-something days
away) has only turned more rock-strewn, when it should instead have been
A formidable amount has to be done with enormous stealth,
both logistically and in vital marketing terms, in the undesirably compressed lead-up ... and we should not yet rule out the possibility that it doesn’t take place at
all, given the legal-threat rumblings from jilted overseas-based tournament
franchise owners, who thought they had bought into the T20 Global League
engineered - but then jettisoned, as later he was - in the winter of 2017 by
former CSA CEO Haroon Lorgat.
Whether you liked him or not, Lorgat was a hard-nosed,
fiercely industrious stalwart of senior International Cricket Council affairs
and was good at making things happen.
Since his less than harmonious side-lining, the replacement
tournament concocted, sans tangible conviction, by a more callow new guard has
laboured excruciatingly (shrouded with near-crippling financial and other
concerns) to get the sails up ... indeed, it appears to be a vessel battling to
remain buoyant just below the waterline.
It could, worst-case scenario, plummet to the ocean floor,
if ousted parties play really hardball in litigious terms and find court favour
for their protestations.
For the moment, at least, the league shuffles shyly,
tenuously toward its scheduled activation in November.
It at least occupies a prime window on the calendar, though
that going to waste would be an embarrassment and irritation for the South
African cricket family broadly. (Already, so much of the more “traditional”
fare is pressed further and further into riskier, less inviting margins, a
But the league is also destined to go ahead without the critical
presence of the lion’s share of premier-name hired guns who roam the planet (if
it’s Tuesday, it must be the Afghani tournament, if it’s Wednesday West Indies
… etc) gobbling up well-paid short-term T20 contracts.
Humiliatingly, when you consider how much more attractive
any significant cricket event should be in established powerhouse South Africa,
the likes of Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum, Kieron Pollard, Eoin Morgan, Shahid
Afridi - and our own flesh and blood Morne Morkel and others - will be
committed to a prior-arranged T10 wham-bam in Abu Dhabi. That’s right, Abu
This drawback is akin, I’d venture, to a Rolling Stones tour
minus its Mick Jagger, really; a U2 concert missing The Edge on guitar.
Or as one of the miffed, now isolated T20 Global League
investors said acidly to me in a recent chat, the replacement league could simply
be “another RAM SLAM (the formerly-sponsored domestic franchise T20
competition) with a few extra firework bangs from the roof”.
From a broadcasting perspective, the SA T20 League has gone
into cahoots with troubled parastatal public broadcaster the SABC.
In principle, of course, the sudden accessibility of the
event to a much larger segment of the population sparks - or at least should -
warm and fuzzy feelings.
But it may also affect attendances - bums on stadium seats
will be a major part of the possibly uphill task of giving the league its soul,
its “cred” - and the CSA/SABC alliance only stiffens widespread anxiety that
the event floats on a highly poppable bubble, if you like, of monetary health.
The SABC, after all, amounts by leadership reputation,
sometimes of the truly fruitcake variety, and vast patterns of cash haemorrhage
to what the sharp commentator Tom Eaton called on Twitter a “smouldering
But CSA’s summer quandaries don’t end with the burdensome
matter just in itself of the (long overdue ... already fatally so?) T20 flagship
A perfect storm may be on the brew, in a sense, as the
season is also noteworthy - granted, we’ve known this for some time - for one
of the least glamorous, incoming international tour rosters of recent summers.
With respect to height-of-season guests Sri Lanka and
Pakistan, for all the difficulties they traditionally pose to the Proteas when
hosting them in Asia, the SA public know that they almost unfailingly fare poorly
on our shores, especially when it comes to the Test combat.
These are also eras where both nations sorely lack genuine, legendary
names in their squads: oh, for a Murali, a Sangakkara, a Javed Miandad, or the
toe-crushing threat of a Waqar or Shoaib Akhtar to enliven the landscape over
the next few months.
It was Lorgat who always used to remind ruefully that
incoming tours by teams like these - most commonly outside the global “big
four” - don’t make money: you have to wait for an India (with the accompanying
huge broadcast scope) or an England with their rowdy, brew-guzzling Barmy Army
in tow to rebalance the CSA books.
Wednesday at Centurion, meanwhile, somehow served to
savagely confirm the grim reality of the major domestic first-class four-day
competition (once the Castle Currie Cup, SuperSport Series, Sunfoil Series)
beginning, as the Titans squared up to the Dolphins, minus a sponsor.
There is something demoralising (at least that’s what I
found) about going onto www.espncricinfo.com and clicking
on decidedly unattractive, gravitas-lacking “4-Day Franchise Series” to find
out the score in the match.
I sense a general summer where damage-limitation will be the
decisive, over-riding theme for CSA; the very maximum benchmark of any 2018/19
And ain’t that, as they say, a crying shame?
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing