Covid-19 Cricket: The South African story, so far

Cricket during the coronavirus pandemic is a whole new picture.
(The Cricket Match – Edith Lawrence)

During World War II, Hollywood kept on releasing new movies and Pablo Picasso kept on painting in Paris.  Surreal, but that is how it was.  The same sense of surrealism permeates South African cricket when one considers the winners and losers during the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2018 Cricket South Africa (CSA) announced in parliament that it expects to make a loss of R654 million over a four-year cycle from May 2018 to April 2022.  But two weeks ago, CSA announced to parliament that it is expecting to record a profit of between R50 – 80 million for the 2019/20 financial year.  The sole reason for this?  The weak rand / dollar exchange rate in the Covid-19 economy.  Between 50 – 60% of CSA’s annual income is from international broadcasting rights paid in US dollars.  CSA is expecting a similar profit for the 2020/21 financial year, targeting a new projected loss of R400 million over the four-year cycle.

On the negative side, though, CSA’s payments to franchises and provinces have been slashed dramatically.  As a result, among other things, the appointment of new coaches have been placed on hold and so too the signing of Academy contracts (awarded to young cricketers just out of the school and on the cusp of signing a provincial contract).  While franchise cricket is expected to start in November, provincial cricket will only do so in January 2021.  The main reason for this is the cost of sanitizing a stadium (the creation of a so-called bio-bubble).

On the upside again, CSA this week announced the signing of a new sponsor, Betway.  Over the next three years, the international online gaming company will be the title sponsor for the Proteas’ Test and ODI series in South Africa, as well as the team sponsors of the Proteas women and the men’s T20 team.  After a botched-up launch last month, CSA also this week re-launched a new format of the game, 3T cricket (3TC) – three teams of eight players each competing against one another in the same match.  Whether the game needs another format, is debatable.  Ditto whether the launch during Covid-19 was by design or coincidental.  Point is, it was.  As strange as it sounds then, Covid-19 might have spawned a new cricket format.  Why else would the copyright holders for 3TC’s rules, Francois Pienaar’s Advent Sport Entertainment & Media, go through all the trouble to register 3TC the name and its format with the Format Recognition and Protection Association in the Netherlands..?

Back to the downside, batmakers are losing money head over fist.  The CEO of a leading bat brand recently told me that their usual turnover for April is around R500,000 (remembering that is traditionally a bad month straight after the cricket season).  This year they made one sale for the whole month!  Journeyman professionals, especially the players on senior provincial contracts, rely heavily on supplementing their income from club cricket in the United Kingdom during the winter.  A player on a good club deal can easily double his income for the year.  That is all gone now, and these professionals will have to survive on four-digit salaries until club cricket (hopefully!) returns to the United Kingdom next year.

Winners and losers.  That, folks, is the surreal world of cricket in South Africa under Covid-19. 

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