The four-day domestic competition in South Africa has been given a massive boost in terms of the cash up for grabs for franchises and players who perform well. Players have referred to it as “prestige returning to the four-day game” - and while there is a long way to go, it’s a small step which should be celebrated. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
If the obituaries are to be believed, Test cricket – and the longer formats of the game – are dead and nobody cares about them. Not the sponsors, not the broadcasters, not the fans; nobody who matters cares about the format at all. It’s all doom and gloom and the long formats are going to be gobbled up by their evil cousin, T20 cricket.
What a surprise it was, then, when the title sponsor of Cricket South Africa’s four-day domestic competition announced that the prize money for the Sunfoil Series would total R2 million this season with the winning franchise scooping a hefty R1 million, more than the prize money for the winner of last year’s domestic T20 competition. Runners-up will receive R600,000, while those in third place will walk away with R200,000. There will also be incentives for player of the series, player of the month and so on.
There is little wrong with South Africa’s current first-class structure. The competition is set up solidly and, although pitches are often curated to favour bowlers, it remains a competitive environment in which the future Test stars can hone their craft. The only problem is that there is always been very little incentive for a franchise to win the competition. Yes, those who want to play Test cricket for South Africa will dig in and work hard, but many who feel they might not ever crack the nod are happy to just bob away in a sea of mediocrity.
Not every player in the world is fazed by the longest format of the game; that’s common knowledge and it’s fine, too. It simply means the longest format of the game will draw those who truly care about it and who aren’t just in it for a quick buck.
Over the past couple of years, the prize money for the domestic four-day competition has dwindled to the region of R600,000 – R675,000 – on par with what franchises received for winning the domestic T20 Cup last season. CSA, along with its sponsors, have shown that they rank their first-class structure to be as important as the hit and giggle sideshow of T20 cricket. They have now taken it one step further. The higher cash incentives as well as the individual awards for players will go a long way in motivating players to consistently perform at their peak.
Money can do wonderful things, and while it is a lovely, romantic notion that “love of the game” goes a long way, love doesn’t pay your grocery bill at the shop and it certainly doesn’t take care of the expenses franchises face.
For CSA Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat, it’s another affirmation that the longest format of the game is the most important, and it shows the organisation’s commitment to the game at grassroots level.
“We must be enthused about our first-class cricket and this is a wonderful boost for the four-day game,” Lorgat said. “It confirms our view that first-class cricket is the premier format and the place where players must excel if they want to succeed at international level.
“I have been working with Sunfoil for only a short while, but I have already sensed their enormous passion and love for cricket in South Africa. I am indeed grateful to the Willowton Group for their magnificent support for both the Sunfoil Four-Day Series and our home Sunfoil Test Series. I must also acknowledge their inspiring contributions at grassroots level.”
In 2007, the Sunfoil Township Cricket initiative was launched, making it possible for teenagers and children in rural and township areas across Kwazulu-Natal to embrace cricket. The aim of the programme was to develop talent and enhance life skills. They have also focussed on offering various bursaries and scholarships that can be used to support either sport or academic futures. The sponsorship grew from there and in 2011, the tournament branched out to Gauteng as the game continues to grow.
The sponsor, at first mocked when it was introduced as title sponsor, has put a lot of effort into the game and with the latest incentive for the four-day game, it mirrors the Proteas’ number-one ranking in the sport.
“It is fitting that the extra support of Sunfoil comes at a time when we need it. The Proteas are world-leaders in Test match cricket and this added incentive for players will help us to promote first-class cricket. We know we cannot rest on our laurels as history shows how other champion teams have slid from the top. This investment by Sunfoil will go some way to helping us incentivise the first-class system in our quest to maintain high standards,” Lorgat added.
For all the lamenting that is done over the state of the four-day game, any sort of positive step forward should be applauded and commended. Considering South Africa’s readmission to international cricket only happened a few years ago, the professional game in South Africa is still very young. Compared to countries like England – where the prize money totals up to R8 million – South Africa is still lagging behind. However, it’s on par with Australia, where there’s R1,800,000 up for grabs for winning the four-day competition.
Yes, the longest format of the game still has a long way to go, but the sponsors’ efforts should not be cast aside. This is one step in the right direction. DM
Photo: International Cricket Council (ICC) Chief Executive, Haroon Lorgat speaks during the ICC World Twenty 20 World Cup 2012 launch in Colombo September 21 ,2011. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
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