The Star cricket writer Stuart Hess.

Very quickly, Free State cricket has seemingly became the forgotten union in South Africa.

The region has a rich history of sport, constantly producing top stars not just in the province, but for various national teams across a variety of sports.

But Bloemfontein and the Free State don’t feature in this year’s Mzansi Super League, Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) attempt to finally get their foot in the T20 franchise door.

Having one of the country’s traditional centres absent certainly caught many by surprise.

The choice of Paarl over Bloem was the result of an independent assessment process run by consultants Nielsen Sports.

A great deal of emphasis was placed on the ‘fan experience’ apparently, with Paarl triumphant over Bloemfontein.

“The buzz phrase for the independent assessment was the ‘Fan Journey’, which starts with the fans’ arrival at the stadium and includes the full package of transport options, both to and from the stadium, and traffic management, ease of access, safety and security arrangements, catering, and interaction activities and opportunities specific to the fan experience,” CSA said in a statement when the six venues for the league were announced.

It’s not a good look for Bloemfontein or the ground there – the Mangaung Oval – which, like other venues around the country, underwent big upgrades ahead of what was going to be the T20 Global League last year.

A spectacular display of the ground’s new lights took place last year during the Bangladesh Test, but new lights or not, Bloemfontein wasn’t deemed good enough for CSA’s new T20 tournament.

Is that an indictment of Free State cricket? Perhaps they’ve become too complacent.

Was it a case of internal CSA political skulduggery?

Corrie van Zyl, the playing affairs director for the Mzansi Super League, hails from the Free State. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Even at yesterday’s draft, Free State were weirdly absent through the first few rounds as players were picked.

Ryan McLaren, closer to the end of his career than the start, was the first Free State player picked, and that was only in Round 8.

He was quickly followed by Pite van Biljon.

Rudi Second, arguably among the most consistent players domestically in recent seasons, and the stand-out performer for the SA ‘A’ side in India earlier this year, never featured through the first eight rounds.

He only went in Round 13.

Rudi Second, a stalwart for the Knights and Free State cricket, was only picked up in Round 13 of the Mzansi Super League player draft. Photo: Frikkie Kapp/BackpagePix

Given that only six spots were available, there was always going to be some controversy about which union would be absent.

This competition and it’s defunct predecessor have had all sorts of controversy, and perhaps choosing Paarl over Bloem may not rank as controversial as potentially getting sued by the owners of the T20GL.

CSA need to take care that one of their larger affiliates don’t become totally forgotten.

Free State may not have the prettiest ground in the country, but they are a union that have historically supplied some big names to SA cricket.

It would be sad if they became a forgotten force in SA cricket.

 

The Star

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