The Africa T20 Cup had an inauspicious start. Back in April at the launch, Cricket South Africa had guests wondering if the organisation had acquired a new sponsor. Spell-check had been disengaged on CSA’s computer system, making for much jocularity over the “Arfica Cup”.
For CSA, however, the Africa Cup is a deadly serious affair albeit one that is a dressed up curtain-raiser to the new season.
The tournament can variously be viewed as a replacement for the Champions League, an opportunity for the smaller provincial unions which will host matches to gain income, a philanthropic exercise to boost the game in the continent or a development initiative to increase the depth of talent in South African cricket.
Above all it provides content for one of CSA’s primary backers, pay channel SuperSport, which had lost content owing to the Champions League T20 being made defunct.
The Africa Cup, which starts on Friday, has none of the glamour of the Champions League T20, and certainly the players won’t be able to enjoy the kind of financial reward that competition generated.
In a bid to garner attention and put some more familiar names on TV, CSA have called on a few of the Proteas to slip on their provincial colours.
The superstars will have an important role to play outside of grabbing the public’s attention. They’re also there to help accelerate the development of the young players – most of whom have not broken into the professional ranks and don’t have a franchise contract.
With 19 of the 27 matches in the 16-team competition being televised it is also a stage for young and unknown players to perform, thrusting themselves into the public’s consciousness and perhaps securing a professional contract.
The African component of the competition is made up of Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya, all of whom have bought in to the developmental aims of the tournament by picking a number of younger players in their respective squads.
For the grounds hosting the competition – Willowmoore Park in Benoni, Senwes Park in Potchefstroom, the Diamond Oval in Kimberley and the Mangaung Oval in Bloemfontein – it’s also a chance to host matches in cricket’s most exciting format and hopefully get some much needed revenue.
With the exception of Bloemfontein, which will host the first ODI of the England series next January, none of the other venues will have international matches played at them and would be reliant on the franchise teams of which they are a part, to go deep in either of the two domestic limited overs competitions, to hopefully bring in a crowd.
Just how many people in those four centres will be turned on by a T20 competition that contains just a few household names remains to be seen.
However, it will place some emphasis on the provincial unions to conduct a bit of marketing in their towns to attract spectators.
Depending on how well the tournament is received or how well Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya play, the option to take it beyond South Africa’s borders may occur.
It is certainly a good vehicle to utilise in order to further the growth of the game on the continent which has been limited to third tier status as a result of South Africa playing only a rudimentary role previously.
Ultimately, the quality of the matches, especially if they can generate some close finishes, will prove crucial in bringing people to the stadia or getting their eyes fixed on their television screens.
Cricket SA have come up with a R490 000 prize kitty – R300 000 of which will go to the winners – while besides the usual individual awards like Man of the Match and Man of the Series, there will also be a “story of the tournament” prize, the details of which will still be worked out, but will undoubtedly revolve around the event’s philanthropic ideals.
All franchise players will play for the province at which they are contracted, although a limit of four has been placed on the number to be fielded at the same time.
This limit would not include the contracted Protea players who are restricted to one in the starting XI.
In addition, all teams will be required to field at least two Under-21 players.
Pool A (to be played in Benoni): Easterns, Northerns, Zimbabwe, Western Province
Pool B (Potchefstroom): North West, KwaZulu-Natal Inland, Border, Boland
Pool C (Kimberley): Griqualand West, Namibia, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Province
Pool D (Bloemfontein): Free State, South Western Districts, Gauteng, Kenya
Proteas participating: Hashim Amla (Boland), Quinton de Kock (Easterns), Vernon Philander (South Western Districts), Rilee Rossouw (Free State), David Miller (KZN), Albie Morkel and Dean Elgar (Northerns), Wayne Parnell (WP), Temba Bavuma (Gauteng), Kyle Abbott (KZN Inland)
– THE SUNDAY INDEPENDENT