That’s what Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) chief executive, Thabang Moroe, called it - The 654.
It’s one way to describe a predicted loss of R654 million - it makes it seem smaller, even though it’s a very, very large problem for CSA.
In trying to decrease that debt, CSA is changing cricket's domestic structure.
There will be no Titans, Warriors, Dolphins, Knights, Cobras, Lions and Knights from May 2020. Western Province, Gauteng, Northerns, Easterns, SWD, North West, KwaZulu Natal, Free State. Northern Cape, Border, Eastern Province, Boland will be back competing domestically. If all goes to plan, Limpopo and Mpumalanga will join them in 2023.
Of course, this will lead to more opportunities for players. Sort of. CSA’s development initiatives currently produce more players than the six franchises can accommodate. In fact, the franchises are a big problem for CSA, as Moroe pointed out at the weekend, in that they cost a total of R90 million to run.
Having 12 provinces will be cheaper apparently. Players’ salaries, according to the chief financial officer, Ziyanda Nkuta, won’t be affected.
The SA Cricketers Association (Saca) isn’t buying that, saying they weren't consulted by CSA. Saca's president, Omphile Ramela, drove the point home firmly this past week, arguing: “The players’ livelihoods depend on cricket’s financial sustainability but this is not only about the players. It is also about the future of the entire game in our country.”
There are very real concerns about the future of the game in the country. Moroe wants to make the Mzansi Super league the central element that will “end up funding domestic cricket,” as he put it at the weekend. That seems very far-fetched when considering the broadcasting deal is being negotiated first with the SABC, which has no money.
It is a critical time for cricket in South Africa. The Proteas are heading to a World Cup where the minimum requirement is apparently a spot in the final. If that happens, they will be a desirable asset, one which a broadcaster (SuperSport) will want to pay for.
That will no doubt alleviate the stress caused by the “The 654.”