Former Proteas captain Graeme Smith has reiterated his desire to transform the Betway SA20 League into “the biggest league outside India”.
Smith, who is the commissioner of South Africa’s premier T20 domestic competition, was speaking ahead of the start of season 2 in Gqeberha on Wednesday.
After Cricket South Africa (CSA) had previously seen two previous T20 competitions fail, the SA20 League was launched last year and immediately obtained major success.
With the support of six major Indian Premier League franchises, who own all of the respective teams, SA20 attracted superstar players from all around the world.
This led to high-quality level of cricket, which was supported by in-stadium entertainment yet to be seen in the South African sporting landscape.
Cricket fans across the six venues around the country, which includes Cape Town, Paarl, Gqeberha, Durban, Johannesburg and Centurion, streamed through the turnstiles in record numbers.
An economic impact assessment (EIA), which was commissioned by the league, also highlighted the positive effect the 33-match competition had on South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP), household income, employment and direct expenditure with some key numbers emerging from the study such as R1.4 billion direct expenditure into South Africa, 8 223 annualised employment opportunities created, R4.1bn contributed to South Africa’s GDP and R958m contributed to household income.
“We thought being able to attract six IPL franchises was a huge step in the right direction to build something substantial,“ Smith said.
“South African cricket has a strong culture in terms of talent, stadiums and structure. The franchises liked the perspective and the opportunity to build something. Season 1 was incredible with the fans getting behind the teams so quickly
“We want to be the biggest league outside India, that’s our ambition. Going into a new season, teams and talents in them are looking stronger. The best of South African players will be seen in action and there are some young players coming through.”
CSA and the SA20, however, have received plenty of criticism of late for the clash of fixtures with the Proteas Test team, which will see the national side field a severely under-strength side on the upcoming tour to New Zealand.
Smith, though, feels that it would short-sighted to view the tour Down Under in isolation and that the SA20 will indeed be to the benefit of South African cricket, both from a player resource and commercial perspective going forward.
“South African cricket has committed that SA20 is a big part of its future and gives it the best chance to succeed. I believe it’s just four weeks a year and there would be a lot of chances to play Test cricket,” he said.
“SA20 is a bridge between where our domestic cricket is and our international format currently is. Putting our players exposed to pressure which they can only get in international cricket with a full house, that bridge that keeps our SA national team stronger.”
Defending champions Sunrisers Eastern Cape will face Joburg Super Kings at St George’s Park in the tournament opener on Wednesday (starts 5.30pm).