JOHNNESBURG – The Mzansi Super League has been with us in its most pragmatic form for two weeks. By pragmatic, I mean there’s actually cricket happening, something that didn’t occur with its predecessor.
Depending on where you stand, it’s either been non-existent or, as one TV commentator keeps telling viewers, a competition that “has captured the imagination of the South African public”.
If the South African public is Paarl and Boland Park, then sure, the MSL has captured the imagination of the public. However, Paarl doesn’t speak for or represent the whole of the country.
I was at the Wanderers last Saturday and everything the marketing types at Cricket SA would want from the Mzansi Super League was on display: Kagiso Rabada to Quinton de Kock, Dale Steyn to Reeza Hendricks, a table-topping team in the Cape Town Blitz at the Bullring, a handful of quality fast bowlers... there really was a lot to like ahead of the game.
And then only 3664 went through the Wanderers turnstiles that evening. That’s 1232 fewer people than went to the opening match at the Wanderers a week earlier. Hardly “capturing the imagination of the South African public”, is it?
I thought that first week was impacted by people resting up ahead of the 94.7 cycle ride around Joburg next day. Week two’s excuse? A huge thunderstorm that broke over the city an hour before play probably kept many at home, but the fact that over a thousand fewer people turned up at the Wanderers last Saturday compared to the first week was not a good look for Cricket SA and the MSL.
Earlier this week, Cricket SA released figures for television viewership for the first weekend of the competition. The MSL attracted 3.4 million unique viewers for those first four matches, with the Stars’ first match, against the Nelson Mandela Bay Giants, being the most popular, with 1.6 million unique viewers.
Apparently those are decent television figures and as Cricket SA’ chief executive Thabang Moroe said, they do justify the decision to broadcast the tournament on a "free to air" platform.
It will be interesting to see if those numbers are just down to a novelty effect, something brand new and all that.
But are numbers at the stadiums cause for concern?
Many people have rushed to judge the MSL after just two weeks, saying it’s not gaining traction with the public. However, it is too early to tell with this competition. The first half of it is taking place at a very "unfriendly" time of the year with kids and students still finishing exams, and the working year coming to an end.
Once the holidays start it will be interesting to see if the numbers actually increase.
I feel the tournament’s been a bit flat. The MSL has certainly not “captured my imagination”, but I see why it’s important for South African cricket - just based on the first two weeks and the performances of players like Lutho Sipamla, Anrich Nortje and Janneman Malan - and hopefully others do too.
But it needs something; a few more tight matches, some drama (a flare-up between players perhaps), to move it from being what it is now - just a run of the mill cricket competition. Then it might really capture the imagination of the South African public.@shockerhess