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Twenty20 vision blurs future of Test cricket

Dewald Brevis of Momentum Multiply Titans during the final 2022 CSA T20 Challenge game between Titans and Rocks at St Georges Park in Port Elizabeth on 27 February 2022. Picture: Deryck Foster/BackpagePix

Dewald Brevis of Momentum Multiply Titans during the final 2022 CSA T20 Challenge game between Titans and Rocks at St Georges Park in Port Elizabeth on 27 February 2022. Picture: Deryck Foster/BackpagePix

Published Apr 3, 2022


Johannesburg - For all the understandable gnashing of teeth over the players who chose to head to the Indian Premier League (IPL) instead of play the two Tests against Bangladesh, the presence of Dewald Brevis at that tournament should be equally concerning for South African cricket.

Brevis turns 19 in the last week of April. His senior professional career consists of nine T20 matches. The Mumbai Indians paid no regard to that. Instead they paid Brevis R6.1 million. It suggests a new way of thinking for an IPL team when it comes to contracting foreign players.

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It’s about development, following a method used by the big football clubs, in signing a player, helping him grow within a certain structure and then refining his potential. Players no longer need to have played international cricket to attract interest, as is the case for the majority of foreign stars in the IPL a good junior is a risk worth taking.

Brevis still hasn’t played a first class match or a One-Day game. The pathway for him to play for the Proteas is clearly going to be very different. But that will also depend on what the future may look like for the Proteas, because Test cricket is increasingly being marginalised when it comes to those teams not in the ‘Big three’.

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Much of it has to do with the IPL which is increasingly taking bigger chunks out of the calendar. This year saw the league’s expansion from eight to 10 teams. When the Board of Control for Cricket in India opened that bidding process, nine consortia put in bids, while six cities showed an interest in hosting a team.

That means that there are still at least seven entities and four cities interested in owning an IPL team. And yes, ‘the suits’ are interested in further expansion.

“Over a 10-year period, maybe 12 teams. With 10 teams, it should expand by at least two and a half weeks. With 12 teams potentially a month extra or maybe more than a month. A two-month tournament becomes a three, three and half month tournament,” the CEO of Star Sports, Sanjog Gupta, said in an interview last year.

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Star Sports’ broadcast deal for the IPL is worth a reported $2.5 billion but that is expected to double next year when a new deal is set to be announced. That has further, worrying implications for international cricket.

The calendar becomes smaller, so in South Africa’s case the season may have to be structured in such a way that the Proteas start earlier, to accommodate series’ in August maybe. The other issue is all that money being paid for the IPL, means there is less money to go around elsewhere. With interest in Test cricket waning, particularly if it doesn’t involve Australia, England and India, the longest format is in grave danger of losing relevance.

In his column in the Daily Mail this week, veteran commentator David Lloyd wrote about Test cricket dying in the next decade. The evidence is there; five of South Africa’s last six series’ have been two matches. What was once an iconic series against England that involved five Tests, will this year be just three. Lloyd painted a picture of future international series’ becoming a bit like what the women’s game has currently a set of ODIs and T20s and a one-off Test.

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The International Cricket Council should be gravely concerned. But is it? Its latest scheduling suggests not. Every year for the next eight years there will be a men’s limited overs tournament; including T20 World Cups, with the US hosting a portion of the 2024 edition, three 50-over tournaments, with the 2027 World Cup taking place in South Africa and two Champions Trophy events a bizarre addition after that tournament was seemingly cancelled to make room for the World Test Championship.

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The entire landscape of the sport, which has already changed so radically in the last 10 years, will undergo even more change in the next decade.

And Brevis’ career will be an interesting study, in what will be important for players in the future. Previously it was about playing 100 Tests and two to three World Cups. Now, with an expanding IPL, those priorities will look a lot different.

Cricket SA, desperate to find some stability after a protracted period of administrative chaos, will find itself at the whims of power players much bigger than it can handle.

The organisation is finalising the Memorandum of Understanding it has with the players union, the SA Cricketers Association (Saca), and part of that MoU includes providing nationally contracted players with the opportunity to go and play in the IPL.

The current MoU stipulates that players can go provided they get permission from CSA. There seems to have been confusion about that particular clause from CSA’s perspective because it said it could do nothing to prevent the players from going to India now. Saca’s chief executive Andrew Breetzke claims that is not the case.

Whatever the next MoU looks like, there needs to be clarity about players’ availability for the national side, if it clashes with the IPL. That looks increasingly like it will be the case with the world’s most lucrative cricket competition set for further expansion in the next few years.