SA20 was Cricket South Africa’s last chance at filling their empty money coffers. The Mzansi Super League didn’t pick up and the Global T20 League was shelved before the first ball was bowled. The challenge was steep for Graeme Smith, the Commissioner of the SA20 league.
The third time has been the charm for South Africa. The first season of SA20, played last year, brought crowds to cricket in capacities generally seen only at marquee events. According to Forbes India, the league turned a profit in its first year and reduced the losses that CSA had suffered in the immediate past. And the league has sustained itself for the second season in a row.
The fans are already crediting it as the second-best T20 league after the IPL. In times when many other franchise competitions, a few running for over a few seasons, are still trying to find their feet, SA20 has already ticked a few boxes.
What are they? Let’s find out, from a subjective point of view:
Link with IPL franchises
Each of the six franchises in SA20 is owned by IPL franchises, generating attention from a heavy proportion of Indian fans emotionally attached to respective IPL teams. The Lucknow fans are naturally drawn to the games of Durban Giants, Delhi fans with Pretoria Capitals and so on. Investments from Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings - two of the most popular T20 franchises worldwide - in the Cape Town and Johannesburg franchises respectively have been the deal maker on this criteria.
“The six IPL franchises that came across and signed agreements to partner with SA20 for a very long time was incredible, because those are six entities that know how to run a franchise. For 15-16 years, they have been the most successful franchises in the world game, they bring cricket expertise, business expertise, commercial expertise. With them, you're bringing real assets into South African cricket,” said Graeme Smith, in an episode of Forbes India’s podcast Sports UnLtd.
Thus, association with the IPL teams - a strategic move as per Smith - has helped the Indian fans find identification with South African teams, alongside also aiding the league in striking greater broadcasting deals.
Ambiance, Pitches and Conditions
South Africa covers the most rudimentary aspect of a good T20 league - creating an atmosphere for T20 cricket.
To begin with, the conditions in South Africa are inch-perfect for T20 cricket. Most premium venues are at high altitudes, making the ball travel faster, even more so in night fixtures. The pitches are sporting and promote thrilling cricket with help for fast bowlers in terms of lateral movement and bounce, as well as shot-making for batters.
The SA20 matches have been played across six venues and barring Boland Park, the home venue of the Paarl Royals, the average run rate at every venue is well above 8. The Super Sport Park in Centurion and the New Wanderers in Johannesburg have an average run rate of 9.5 and 9 respectively.
The balance of a bat and ball contest appears to be tilted slightly towards the batters at times. However, the dynamics of T20 cricket encourage fast-paced cricket rather than a low-scoring tournament ruled by spinners on slow and underdeveloped pitches. CPL and BBL, where 140 has historically been a match-winning score, miss out on this aspect.
The South African pitches have innately maintained a balance between high and low-scoring fixtures. It was clear in the maiden edition of the T20 World Cup. Played way back in 2007, the tournament was a big success, contributing to the format's sudden boom.
The pure cricketing aspect of the SA20’s success makes you wonder how South Africa has not hosted a major ICC event since 2007.
Much like the 2007 T20 World Cup, this checkbox has ensured full crowds at the venues, adding to the fervor of T20 cricket radiating through television screens. The spectators hustling for one-handed catches under the sixes landing into the stands to win a few bucks from the tournament sponsors further increases the watchability factor.
Another geographical factor contributing to SA20’s success is South Africa’s location. The Rainbow Nation, along with England, is located in the middle of the cricketing globe. South Africa is another two hours closer to the Indian subcontinent.
Therefore, timing has never been an issue for South Africa in catering games to the biggest region of cricketing consumption. In fact, the night games are in prime time for the Indian audience, in sync with that of IPL.
CPL misses out on this luxury. Isolated in the far west corner of the world, the games in the Caribbean miss out on eyeballs from the rest of the world. The same issue lies with the Super Smash competition in New Zealand, the only country that has never tried its hand at a franchise league tournament.
Availability of players
For the ongoing season, CSA made the controversial move of sending a second-string team (with only seven capped players) for the ongoing two-match Test series in New Zealand. While the decision coped with a lot of flak, it has achieved its objective of keeping the star Protea players free to play the decisive part of the 2024 SA20 season.
You cannot imagine the IPL without Indian players. Not only the flavor but the star value will be missing. BBL is the only league that runs without its star players. It is presumed to be one of the pivotal reasons behind the stagnation of the tournament over the years. CSA seem to have taken notes from Cricket Australia on what not to do and have kept their star value intact.
Otherwise, the league would have lost the services of Kagiso Rabada, Marco Jansen, Aiden Markram, Keshav Maharaj and a few others. Markram and Maharaj are captains of the sides that will be playing the final - Sunrisers Eastern Cape and Durban Super Giants. In addition, the promising pitches have also allowed the overseas players to flourish.
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