After earlier this month rescinding its decision to amalgamate the six franchises and thirteen provinces into twelve professional teams, Cricket South Africa (CSA) this week announced a new domestic playing structure for franchise and provincial cricket for the 2020/21 season. In essence, the 2020/21 season will have the same number of teams but fewer matches.
In a press release that accompanied the announcement, CSA said that there were five primary objectives with the restructuring. Two of these objectives were the reduction of competition costs and providing “meaningful and commercially attractive content for franchises and provinces”. It is unfortunate, however, that the lifting of the standards of domestic cricket was not one of these objectives.
Cost-saving and other financial austerity measures were inevitable after the rampant squandering of CSA’s resources during the Moroe-era. Something had to be done. Curtailing first-class cricket will save costs, but whether it is the best thing to do from a cricketing perspective is debatable. The players need to play as much as is reasonably possible to maintain standards. CSA might ultimately shoot themselves in the foot if they sacrifice cricket standards to save costs.
One struggles to figure out how the new structure will make domestic cricket “commercially attractive”. Around the world, even in powerhouses like England and Australia, domestic cricket battles for income from sponsors, advertising, ticket and suite sales and other income streams. With fewer games, less television time and the economic situation in South Africa, how will the new structure bring more money into the game?
We have discussed before in these columns the lack of identity of the franchises and the distancing that has developed during the franchise system between businesses and cricket teams. The only way big local businesses will get involved in cricket again (like in the past Mercedes Benz at Border or All Gold at Boland) is if domestic cricket is restructured into one level of first-class teams involving twelve provinces.
The gradual erosion of the standard of domestic first-class cricket is the real problem facing CSA. More opportunities need to be created for the players, not less. If less cricket is played and the standards drop, there is no chance of making the domestic game in South Africa “commercially attractive”. The dropping of domestic standards will eventually filter through to the Proteas too. The first signs of that were already evident this season.
The restructuring of the domestic first-class competitions now need to be followed up by an expansion for the 2021-22 season to twelve provincial teams. Hopefully such plans are also being discussed by CSA.