Johannesburg — Cricket South Africa’s new T20 venture — its third attempt at launching a league — will be under-written by the owners of some of the biggest T20 teams in the world and broadcaster SuperSport.
Former Proteas captain and previously Cricket SA’s Director of Cricket, Graeme Smith, will oversee the entire thing — as the tournament’s “Commissioner”. Smith is unlikely to face the kind of turbulence he had to put up with as Cricket SA freed itself from the mess created by the previous administrators, although he will know that his new role is not one that is without challenges.
This tournament is CSA’s version of “going all in”. The future of the sport in the country is at stake. The current chief executive, Pholetsi Moseki, with whom Smith forged a closed bond during his time as Director of Cricket, said as much last week.
Moseki’s background is the financial world, and he pulls no punches, previously describing cricket’s economic environment as “tough”. As a result some difficult decisions needed to be made, like the one taken recently to abandon the One-Day series against Australia next year and thereby putting automatic qualification for the 2023 Cup at stake, to ensure all of the Proteas’s star players were available for the new T20 League.
Previous attempts at starting a tournament failed; in the case of the Global League T20 in 2017, because a broadcast sponsor couldn’t be secured, and it was a similar case with the Mzansi Super League in 2019, although on that occasions there was backing from the SABC, but the income was minimal — just R25-million, while expenditure over two years ran to R200-million.
In the case of the new venture, CSA will be the majority shareholder with 57.5% ownership, along with broadcaster SuperSport, which holds 30% and Indian businessman Sundar Raman, who had previously worked as chief operating officer of the IPL with a 12.5% stake.
And it is that league which CSA is aiming to mimic. In a strategy document shared with the CSA Board in April, the goal for the league is for it to become the “second best T20 league in the world,” after the IPL.
It is a huge goal, because various leagues have sprung up around the world. Pakistan runs a successful competition, the West Indies through the Caribbean Premier League, have already created a foothold for themselves, while England has The Hundred and Australia the Big Bash.
Cricket SA’s new competition will go up against the Big Bash and a new T20 league in the United Arab Emirates which will also be played at around the same time in January.
Crucially, Smith, through his relations in India and alongside Raman, have reportedly secured backing for the six teams in the South African competition, from the owners of some of the top IPL sides. Those include the Chennai Super Kings, Rajasthan Royals, Mumbai India, Sunrisers Hyderabad, Delhi Capitals and Lucknow SuperGiants.
According to that Board document, the new competition had already secured backing to the tune of nearly $120-million, with $89-million coming from SuperSport.
Smith has faced and overcome many challenges in his time in the spotlight — as captain making the Proteas the no.1 Test team in the world and then as Director of Cricket, helping to stabilise CSA’s listing ship.
As Commissioner — in which he has oversight of all aspects of the league (both cricketing and non-cricketing) — he has to save the game. “This is not just a T20 competition, this is really about the sustainability of our game,” Moseki said last week.