All the SA marquee players and team owners/officials, flanked by CSA president Chris Nenzani (far right) and CEO Haroon Lorgat (far left). Photo: @inspiranti (Hemant Dua, Johannesburg team official) via Twitter

Sometimes with cricket, it seems like you’re waking up in a parallel universe where everything is upside down and out of place.

Almost everything we knew and cherished has been prodded and poked, shifted aside or recalibrated.

It’s called progress, and in roughly 10 years, cricket has morphed from a staid, safe sport into a riot of action, gaudy sideshows and bags of cash.

Welcome to cricket, circa 2017, where the lights are lasers, the girls are pretty and contestants are master blasters (rather than cricketers) and soundbite merchants. Entertainment oozes out of every pore, moments are sponsored and milestones are, well, fast forgotten.

After last week’s shindig in London, where South Africa’s T20 Global League was launched, this extravagant new world is on our doorstep. SA has officially joined the party, albeit at twilight hour with the Indian Premier League and others long established.

“We must safeguard the future,” said Chris Nenzani, Cricket SA president, without evident irony.

Better late than never, eh.

Just as well that SA’s superstars and the usual suspects – Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Kevin Pietersen – are coming to the party. This is no B-list bash. There are sexy team owners, iconic players, swanky venues and shades of Bollywood. Don King would be proud.

With the cost of franchises believed to range from $3 million to $5 million, it’s little surprise that just two of the eight team owners are from South Africa, among them the exotically named Osman Osman.

An impresario who made his name with comedy and Bollywood shows across Africa, he brings a suitably grandiose presence to the game. He’s an entertainment and lifestyle man who has ambitions of turning his Pretoria franchise into another glamorous arm of his business.

The omens are good: AB de Villiers is his marquee man.

The other local owners are Brimstone Investments, a Cape-based investment consortium. The company has a long and successful record of excellence in the corporate world. They aren’t in this venture for the jolly – there’s money to be made.

They will be cautious and careful in an environment they are unfamiliar with, but it’s a marvellous coup for T20. If Brimstone sees the possibilities, there must be a good thing brewing.

Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan is the owner of the Cape Town Knight Riders franchise. Photo: Hannah McKay, Reuters

It signals new money moving into cricket and in a depressed economy like ours, this is no bad thing.

Quite how South Africans will respond is a mystery. The trouble with franchise sport is that teams typically have no history, no long-standing roots in the community, no tradition.

The first trick is to generate a buzz and to reach out. Fans must be seduced by the promise of action and intrigue, as the IPL has demonstrated.

If Indians have shown an insatiable appetite for the IPL, the same probably won’t be true here. How could it? Cricket in SA has its firm base, but it’s not fanatical or outlandish. The marketers will have to work hard.

There will be interesting spin-offs, mostly positive. For one, there will be big money to be made for local cricketers. The Global League will thus help stem the tide of talented locals shipping overseas, no bad thing.

Far more grand is the possibility of top-level T20 instilling courage and audacity in our play. No-one doubts the well of talent that abounds across SA, but there is a soft underbelly to the way we play.

Our failures at the top-end are routine, probably because it’s more difficult to confront “soft” issues like tenacity and bloody-mindedness, or what the All Blacks call “mongrel”.

For all our exceptional talent, we haven’t found a way to hang tough.

Fearlessness is a critical quality required to survive and thrive in T20. Perhaps it will subconsciously seep into our play. We shall see.

It will be curious to watch how SA’s established unions view the cocky new interloper. They can either embrace the new product and feed off its energy, or pretend it isn’t there and carry on with business as usual.

T20 may not be for everyone, but it’s the future.

A brave new world awaits.

Sunday Tribune

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