In its inaugural season, the SA20 managed to carve out a niche. And ahead of the second season, which begins on January 10 next year, former South Africa captain and the league’s commissioner, Graeme Smith, expects the league to be more competitive and become the ‘biggest cricket league’ outside India.
“We have created expectations, which is obviously what we want. We still have big goals to become the biggest league outside India. Last year, the success points were the quality of the cricket, the quality of the local and the international talents, the fans in the stadium, the vibes, the colours, and the experience that came through on TV. For us, it’s about executing well again and hopefully, the cricket will be of a great standard,” Smith told Sportstar during his recent visit to the city.
“The league will be competitive. And for us, it’s about growth and how we can amplify that message and make sure that people turn on their TVs and watch SA20 and what’s happening there…”
In an ever-evolving cricketing landscape, it’s not easy for a franchise league to survive, and being at the helm for a while, Smith wants to take a leaf out of IPL’s books. “Like IPL was in season 2, you have got to keep getting better and hopefully bigger. That’s our goal at SA20. We are hoping that from an Indian perspective, we really can capture the audience that Viacom has built so that people are intrigued to watch the young talent in South Africa,” he said.
All the six franchises that have teams in the SA20 own outfits in the IPL as well. However, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) hasn’t so far allowed current or former Indian players to feature in the league, despite maintaining a cordial relationship with Cricket South Africa.
“We are very fortunate that we have got six franchises that have a very strong base in India. We have a very good relationship with the BCCI as well. We respect the BCCI’s decision on their players, and it’s ultimately their choice. If that ever changes, we would have the perfect platform for Indian players to grow and develop and have opportunities,” Smith said.
“But at the moment, we are trying to build a successful league. And if that happens, one day, then it’s a bonus for us. The South African fans love the Indian players, and with India touring in December-January, our fans will get an opportunity to experience the Virats, Bumrahs and the Jadejas. So, there’s always a close connection, but at the moment, we respect what the BCCI wants to do for Indian cricket…”
Last year, the league introduced a revolutionary policy wherein teams could finalise their playing XI after the toss, thus nullifying the toss factor. “We tried to nullify the effect of the toss a little bit. I know, the IPL then added the Impact Player rule and then we had one or two rules about direct hits on stumps and various other things. So, we will debate some sort of areas of the game that we think can be improved or should be improved,” Smith said.
“We think T20 cricket is strong. We think SA 20 is strong. So it’s only going to be about things that we think can actually benefit and make the game better and easier to understand for our fans or make it more impactful.
“For us, it will be about the competitive nature of the league. I think we’ve been able to attract high quality international players. We’ve got a local base that’s getting better and better and has superstars. And if we can, from a league perspective, we get into the late stages of the tournament and a couple of teams are still in the running, then it’s great for the competition,” the former South Africa captain said.
Smith believes that with all the franchises playing a key role in developing younger talents, it benefits the league. “We are very fortunate that we have got six franchises that are very competitive and that want to win and want to grow players. It only benefits the league. The type of people, coaches, medical, fitness, everyone that comes in for the SA20 is such a real asset for South African cricket,” Smith said.
“It’s a platform that the SA20 is creating for the future and it’s awesome. For a youngster looking up now, there’s a real career ahead of them - not only playing for the Proteas, but, there’s a really strong domestic SA20 and who knows with franchise cricket’s growth, what that could mean for youngsters of the future!”
However, for now, the league does not want to extend the window beyond a month. “At the moment, our window will probably stay the same. We don’t want to get too long at this stage. Maybe, after four to five years, we will start exploring, keeping the changing landscape of the game in mind,” Smith said.
While the opening game will be played between Sunrisers Eastern Cape and Joburg Super Kings at St George’s Park, the final will be held on February 10.
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