The Cricket body's finances aren't looking good at the moment. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix
Cricket South Africa’s delayed interaction with the Parliamentary portfolio committee for Sport and Recreation highlighted an organisation that is struggling financially and for whom development remains a significant challenge.

On the economics, Cricket SA is no different to any other entity in the country at the moment. South Africa is in the midst of a recession that has seen many companies engage in severe cutbacks and retrenchments. CSA is predicting losses of R654-million for the four-year cycle ending in April 2022. The organisation has for years constructed its budget to run in four-year cycles between World Cups, with finances determined by which teams tour the country.

CSA described to the committee a “difficult sponsorship and local broadcast market,” as being the primary reason for being unable to earn additional revenue. That is exacerbated by the largely less than stellar incoming tours schedule over the next few years. It’s only England, India and Australia that bring in the big television bucks and South Africa has limited series against those sides between now and the 2022 World Cup. England are here next summer for a full tour, Australia play a few One-Dayers and India aren’t scheduled to play Tests in SA until the summer of 2021/22.

Sponsors are hard to come by as marketing budgets at big companies are slashed. Sunfoil and Momentum will not be renewing with CSA leaving various “assets” from the naming rights for local Test series, to the womens national team, the domestic four-day competition and the local T20 tournament without a sponsor.

Cricket SA’s new Mzansi Super League (MSL)  already budgeted to lose R40-million on top of the nearly R200-million lost last year when the T20 Global League was postponed - is also still sponsorless and there are concerns about the next broadcast deal as well. In the case of SuperSport, the main rights holders for cricket in this country which has a deal with CSA that runs until 2021, the economic pinch has led to it laying off staff. The SABC, with which CSA signed a deal to broadcast the MSL, this week admitted it was “technically insolvent.”

And the tight economic conditions have a knock-on effect which could directly impact the future of the game in the country. Cricket SA’s key development initiatives centre around Hubs and Regional Performance Centres (RPC); which total 55 in the case of the Hubs and 12 RPCs, dotted around 28 municipal districts. The Hubs and RPCs alone cost R28-million per year to run (including upkeep of facilities, paying coaches and bringing in equipment) and they are integrated into various local schools leagues, underlining the important role they play in bringing the game closer to disadvantaged communities.

“Whilst these well intended and much needed programmes are imperative to the long term sustainability of cricket in South Africa, CSA has been unable to secure additional revenue to fund it,” CSA told the committee.

CSA is looking to “generate new revenues” with the Mzansi Super League the main new initiative. However at this stage CSA is spending more on the MSL than it is earning and the chances of securing a sponsor make that a difficult prospect.

Nevertheless Cricket SA continues to put its development initiatives at the forefront of its goals and among five key challenges it highlighted to the committee CSA pointed to three areas of its development programmes that will be prioritised. Two of those relate to the accelerated development of black African batsmen and the third to the lack of adequate facilities in disadvantaged areas.

As it stands Temba Bavuma is the only black African batsman to have cracked the Test team and a sign of CSA’s desperation to accelerate the development of black African batsmen at elite level is the creation of strict targets at semi-professional level.

There have to be at least two black African batsmen in the top six of semi-pro sides, which play in the three-day and one-day provincial challenge competitions.

At franchise level, where that target is not being enforced, the need for CSA’s push to develop black African batsmen becomes clear. Of the top 20 run-scorers in the Four-Day Series this season, just two are black African; 19 year old Sinethemba Qeshile, who’s made a magnificent start for the Warriors, has scored three half-centuries, while the Dolphins’ Sibonelo Makhanya has made over 200 runs.

No franchise has picked more than two black African batsmen in a starting side and in total only 14 players have featured this season.

“It’s about facilities, at grassroots level, they’re just not good enough for the creation and development of these youngsters,” said Highveld Lions head coach Enoch Nkwe.

Comparisons with bowlers are irrelevant says Nkwe, young bowlers don’t need a specific environment or set of equipment to develop those skills.

However, some have sought to make a comparison with young players in India or Pakistan, who like many in South Africa, don’t have first class facilities to develop their batting, but who still manage to develop top batsmen. “Sure, you could compare and sure maybe with the facilities we have in South Africa, you would develop young players who can play spin, but then they move up the ranks and the pitches they play on are conducive to quick bowling and the players they are competing with and against are more suited to that environment, then they have to develop a whole new set of skills,” said Nkwe.

Nkwe argues that while it’s fine to have the target at semi-pro level, it must be honestly applied - “if the young player is an opener, he opens, and don’t take a bowler and make him a top order batsman.”

It’s a significant hurdle for Cricket SA as it seeks to make the sport more inclusive and accessible. Money drives the whole machine, and getting money in the current environment is very difficult.

CSA must hope that the economy improves. It can’t only rely on the Proteas to bring in cash, which if they don’t, will cause development to suffer.


Sunday Independent

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