The South African domestic cricket structure needs to be revisited and modernised because of the changes to the international game and to accommodate the policies of Cricket South Africa (CSA). The six-team domestic franchise system is strangling the development of players and support for the domestic game.
CSA in 2004 scrapped the provincial system that had served South African cricket well for over a hundred years and replaced it with a six-team franchise system. In a changing world for domestic cricket they destroyed brands like Western Province and created new brands that belong to nobody. The South African cricket fan lost interested in domestic cricket because they could no longer identify with it. Today, South African domestic cricket is dead and has no following.
Also, the six-team system has resulted in very limited opportunities for domestic players. Add on the transformation targets and the opportunities have become a crisis for young South African cricketers. The system has also become too narrow to produce the required number of players for modern-day international cricket when one takes into consideration the three formats. The system is based on an archaic Australian system when there was less international cricket and no global tournaments.
CSA are meeting towards the end of November to decide the way forward. The most important aspect is to decide on a system that works in the modern-day South African cricket environment and to create stability for the players. They need to take into consideration the transformation policies and merit to sustain the game in the country.
The model they should look at is to go back to the provincial system but structuring it in such a manner that the standards are maintained to produce sufficient quality international players and create a system with which cricket fans can identify.
The first-class system should have the top six teams playing four-day cricket and the bottom six teams playing three-day first-class cricket. There should be no promotion relegation as first-class cricket is no longer a product that generates commercial gain. It is simply a development program for international players and all provinces should buy into this.
The one-day game must also be played in two divisions of six but with a promotion relegation play-off. The semi-finals can be played between the top two teams in both divisions giving the opportunity to all the provinces to win the One Day Cup. This concept will ensure that the standards are not compromised to produce One Day International players for the future and regenerate public interest in the various provinces.
There is talk of implementing a privatised eight-team franchise system for T20 cricket on an intercity basis. The idea of privatising T20 cricket is a good one, but eight teams are too many and intercity cricket won’t work in South Africa. Once again it will be compromising the identity of the teams and the country does not have the resources to support eight teams. CSA should look to sell off the current six franchises as their T20 teams; at least these brands have been established.
South African cricket have become followers and not leaders. This needs to change. We should not base our strategies and decisions on what other countries do but develop our own that work in South Africa.