SA20 League takes shape with player auction set

SA20 League takes shape with player auction set
The SA20, under commissioner Graeme Smith, has established six teams backed by Indian Premier League money. Smith confirmed that there would be an IPL-style auction on 19 September. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi / Getty Images)

SA20, the new T20 league slated to start in January 2023, is set to finalise the 102 contracted players later this month.

South Africa’s new T20 League, which has been established to inject vital funding into the local game and give it long-term sustainability, finally has a name.

It will be called the SA20, the Roman numerals for 20 being XX, which gave the marketing department scope to play. The tournament promises to bring ‘exxcitement’ and ‘exxhilaration’ with lots of ‘sixxes’, etc. Or is that exxcetera?

But marketing hype aside, the real story of SA20 is that it exists at all. In an increasingly crowded calendar, with numerous T20 Leagues around the world, the SA20 has elbowed its way onto the table.

Purists might find that explosion of T20 Leagues offensive because they have invariably come at the expense of Test and first-class cricket, but it’s the future.

Every cricketing body recognises that to attract younger audiences who live in a high-paced world where multitasking on one or more devices while “watching” sport is the norm, 20-over cricket fits the bill.

The SA20 is the third attempt to start a global league staffed by a mixture of local and international players, and it appears that it will be the most successful.

Although the first ball won’t be bowled until January 2023, the SA20, under commissioner Graeme Smith, has established six teams backed by Indian Premier League (IPL) money.

Fewer Test matches for South Africa after CSA prioritises T20s

All six are linked to existing IPL clubs, giving the South African league a cricketing highway to India’s massive domestic market.

The IPL’s Chennai Super Kings have bought into the Johannesburg franchise, which will be called the Joburg Super Kings. The benefits of having a direct link between IPL teams and the SA20 franchises are numerous, not least of which is drawing in a ready-made fan base.

South African players who impress will draw the attention of the IPL big brother, while there are opportunities for young players to gain experience in both India and South Africa.

The Imperial Lions celebrate victory over the Titans in the 2022 CSA One Day Cup Final at SuperSport Park in Pretoria on 6 April 2022. Purists might find that explosion of T20 Leagues offensive because they have invariably come at the expense of Test and first-class cricket, but it’s the future. (Photo: © Christiaan Kotze / BackpagePix)

In addition, the new franchise owners have all contractually committed to running development programmes in South Africa, and for South African talent.

“We have been looking for opportunities for the past few years to get into outside franchise cricket,” Chennai Super Kings chief executive KS Viswanathn said.

“Cricket South Africa’s league is a very good opportunity. When they launched the league, we were very keen because of the fact that we enjoy a very good support base in South Africa.”

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SA20 has the potential to make South African cricket financially stable and even hugely profitable, after a comprehensive but rapid bidding process for owners.

The lofty ideal is to make it the second-most successful global T20 league after the IPL. The IPL recently sold its broadcast rights for the next five years for $6-billion. If the SA20 can make a 10th of that in future, it would be massive.

This week Smith confirmed that there would be an IPL-style auction on 19 September and that each squad of 17 players can have up to seven foreign players. The match-day XI will be split 7/4 between local and foreign players.

Faf du Plessis

The Joburg Super Kings have named former Proteas captain Faf du Plessis as their skipper for the inaugural tournament. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

Each franchise has a $2-million budget to draft players for the month-long, 33-match tournament, some of which has already been used to buy players in a pre-bid process.

“We’ve got an extensive list of international players that we’re sorting out for the auction. We’re still finalising some of the auction details and we’re sorting out the player registration because of the large number of players,” Smith said.

“There has been an element of pre-signing that has been taking place and the teams have a purse of $2-million that already includes the pre-signed players.

“A lot of work has gone into it and we’re very excited with what we’ve done and what we can create in future.”

Graeme Smith emerges as the main kingmaker in South African cricket

Although up to 70 South African players will be up for auction, the South African Cricketers’ Association (Saca) is still in negotiations with Cricket South Africa (CSA) and the SA20 League about player management.

Currently South Africa’s professional cricketers’ rights are protected via a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Saca and CSA. But the SA20 League falls outside the perimeters of that contract.

At this stage there won’t be a new MOU, or even an amended MOU to secure the players’ rights, but rather a separate commercial deal for the players and the SA20 League.


The inaugural SA20 will clash with existing T20 leagues in Australia and the United Arab Emirates in the same time frame. Some players, such as England’s Moeen Ali and Liam Livingston, have signed for SA20 but also for competing leagues.

Moeen is set to also participate in the UAE’s ITL20 and Livingstone in Australia’s Big Bash League (BBL).

“The Big Bash has created a different structure where they have allowed players to play for a portion of the BBL,” Smith said.

“The players that have signed for our league will be there (in Australia) for the first couple of days of January and then they will come across to South Africa. They will be here when their team owners require them in South Africa. They will be available fully for the South African league.

“We’ve been able to attract some big international names to our league. You can see in the pre-signing with Rashid Khan, Jos Buttler, Liam Livingstone and the like.

“We’ve got some real quality but the difference for us is that we focus on South African talent as well. There will be 60 or 70 South African players on a global platform with their storylines. We’ve seen how that’s benefited Indian cricket in the IPL and it’s gone to benefit their all-format cricket. We are hoping we will be able to create the same in South Africa.”

Cricket South Africa set to snub ODIs in Australia in favour of domestic T20 league

It has taken extensive work to get the league to this stage in such a short time. CSA is a 57.5% shareholder, SuperSport holds 30%, while former BCCI head Sundar Raman is the minority shareholder.

Crucially, the international broadcast rights are still up for sale. The sub-Saharan rights sit with SuperSport.

A new board, consisting of CSA (represented by Pholetsi Moseki and Mark Rayner) and two SuperSport representatives, will be established. Raman and representatives of the six franchises will also have a seat.

Joburg confirm Faf as captain

Meanwhile the Johannesburg-based franchise, the Joburg Super Kings, named former Proteas captain Faf du Plessis as their skipper for the inaugural tournament.

It comes as no surprise as Du Plessis is a stalwart of the Chennai Super Kings team in the IPL, and also a former Lions player.

“I have an extremely lucky and long relationship with Chennai. When the opportunity presented itself again, I was extremely happy,” Du Plessis said.


“The SA20 league is going to be incredibly crucial for the sustainability of South African cricket. I’ve seen first-hand the difference that it can have on a country’s cricket.

“Having been involved with the IPL for the last 10 to 11 years, you see the difference that it makes to a new generation. The knowledge and wisdom and experience that you can share across with your young talent in your own country, I think that’s extremely important for the growth of the national team.

“The way that they’ve set up the league now looks like it’s going to be one of the big leagues across the globe.” DM


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