Cricket South Africa (CSA) recently announced that from the 2021/22 season, 15 provinces will play professional domestic cricket. The new provincial structure replaces the six-team franchise and thirteen-team provincial system that served domestic cricket from 2004. CSA must be congratulated on returning to the provincial structure because franchise cricket was the worst decision made for domestic cricket in South Africa.
The franchise system was modelled on the Australian Sheffield Shield of six state teams which has served Australian cricket well for decades. This strong system ensured that Australian cricket was a dominant force in world cricket over the last century when there were only Test and One Day International cricket. With the evolution of three three formats of international cricket and the global events, this system has proved inadequate to produce sufficient players to maintain Australia’s dominance in world cricket.
The mistake that CSA made was to model South Africa’s domestic cricket on a country that did not have the same dynamics. Simply put, the franchise opportunity base was too narrow for merit and transformation. This resulted in many cricketers emigrating to the United Kingdom and New Zealand to the detriment of South African cricket. Hopefully, the new structure will create more opportunities for merit selection and transformation without further damaging the South African game. Also, it finally ends the two-tier first-class cricket system that South Africa has had since the 1960’s. This will ensure the integrity of first-class cricket, and players’ statistics will be a true reflection of their abilities.
The fifteen teams will play in two divisions, with eight in the top division and seven in the lower division. All teams will play first-class and List A cricket. After the first two seasons, there will be an automatic promotion and relegation based on criteria to be decided in the future. This is a good decision as it ensures that there will be context and consequences in domestic cricket again, a factor that was missing for years. Hopefully, this will ensure the intensity that is currently missing and will produce better quality international players for the country. Only the top eight teams will play in the Mzansi Super League T20, with players drawn from all the provinces.
The franchise teams belonged to no one and didn’t enjoy community support towards the end. The new system will hopefully reconnect communities with their teams and attract local investment in the form of sponsorships and advertisers. Hopefully, spectators will also return to the stadiums to watch their local teams again. The provinces need to ensure that the naming of the teams resonates with the local communities unlike the franchise team names.
An exciting new era is about to dawn for domestic cricket in South Africa. Let us all support and enjoy our local derbies like in years gone by.