Domestic T20 heading for a climax, but does anyone care?

By Ant Sims 6 April 2013

How many cricket fans know that South Africa’s T20 domestic competition is about to reach a rather spectacular climax with a sizable chunk of money on offer for the winner? Very few, if Twitter and crowd attendances are anything to go by. But it shouldn’t matter, because the competition has done just fine. By ANT SIMS.

On Sunday, two of South Africa’s best domestic teams will square off in a glitzy T20 final at the Wanderers in Johannesburg. Both sides boast a wealth of talent, both sides have secured their place in the lucrative Champions League T20 later in the year, and both sides could challenge any team in the IPL and put up a good fight.

Both sides – namely the Lions and the Titans – also face a dilemma: the lack of support for local cricket in South Africa is dismal. While nobody expects a fanatical following to the extent of what is generated through the IPL, how many of South Africa’s cricket fans will even be able to name the teams participating in the final?

A general poll on Twitter revealed a pretty mixed reaction, ranging from people outside of South Africa knowing who the participants were to South Africans admitting they hardly cared and hadn’t watched a single ball.

Despite Cricket South Africa’s biggest efforts, and bless them, they really have made a big effort, the following of domestic cricket in SA is a culture that simply doesn’t exist.  To compare the crowds for SA’s domestic league to that of the IPL would be woefully naïve, but even some county games in England have drawn more support than some of the T20 matches have over the last few weeks.

It’s not a culture that’s ever really existed in South Africa, but the fact that it’s not cultivated itself with the rise and rise of the South African Test team is somewhat alarming; also that so many people are missing out on watching good cricket live, not just on international level, but on the domestic circuit too.

It would be foolish to imagine an environment in which drones of South Africans attended domestic four-day matches or flocked in their hordes to a T20 match when there is so much other sport to choose from, both live and on the TV, but it should not be forgotten that the current South African domestic set-up is incredibly strong and it’s one in which many of the recent-debutants first stood out. Providing players of such high calibre, already set for international cricket, is a treat very few countries can boast with.

JP Duminy, Vernon Philander and Faf du Plessis are just some of the once-domestic players who plied their trade on the that circuit before earning their call-up to the Test team and making an immediate impact.

A number of up-and-coming youngsters have put in some epic work for their franchises in the last few weeks, and international players have made their mark when the international schedule has allowed it; yet interest has been incredibly subdued. But with the frenzied diet of constant cricket being fed to spectators from all corners of the globe and via all kinds of different devices, how does one even begin to build a culture of attending cricket matches?

The argument exists that the T20 season should be over the school holidays, in December and January, but this would mean that the domestic competition would have to compete with prime time international season, not just for eyeballs, but also for players. Pitting two brands in the same cluster against each other isn’t exactly feasible, and while South Africans will hardly ever be starved for cricket, competing for prime time is silly.

The other argument is that pumping wads of cash into the tournament and glamming it up in Big Bash or even IPL fashion will solve the problem. But it won’t. It’s simply window dressing, and it will only deprive future and young talent from opportunities to play against some of the best in the business, wasting money on an unnecessary trend that will most likely destroy itself.

While there is no doubt that, with a little bit of fire up its backside, South Africa’s domestic league might be able to compete with some of the big guns, perhaps the answer is that it doesn’t need to.  While the crowd attendances might be grim, it takes time to foster a culture of watching domestic cricket of all formats, and it takes time to make something so over the top and brash a tradition. As it stands, there is very little wrong with the current competition. Matches have been competitive and players have often played out of their skin. South Africa’s domestic competition has got the basics right.

The Lions and the Titans will fight it out in front of a sizable crowd. At the time of writing, 11,000 tickets had already been sold, and a host of internationals are set to trot out for their franchises in what should be a very good game. The prize money is also sizeable, with R575,000 up for grabs for the winners; R225,000 for second place and a decent R100,000 for the Warriors, who finished third.

Not a bad pay day for a few weeks’ worth of work, is it? DM

Photo: The Wanderers, Johannesburg (REUTERS)


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