Why the IPL is falling out of love with South Africa's players

Royal Challengers Bangalore captain Virat Kohli celebrate the wicket of Kolkata Knight Riders cricketer Chris Lynn with teammate AB de Villiers during the 2018 Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match between Kolkata Knight Riders and Royal Challengers Bangalore at The Eden Gardens Cricket Stadium in Kolkata on April 8, 2018.
Royal Challengers Bangalore captain Virat Kohli celebrate the wicket of Kolkata Knight Riders cricketer Chris Lynn with teammate AB de Villiers during the 2018 Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match between Kolkata Knight Riders and Royal Challengers Bangalore at The Eden Gardens Cricket Stadium in Kolkata on April 8, 2018.
Image: Dibyangshu SARKAR / AFP

The nine South Africans in this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) might have filled 83 player berths in the 13 games played until Monday.

Instead they’ve made only 13 appearances and just three of them have played in all of their team’s games.

That will please those South Africans who regard the IPL and the rest of its ilk as a dangerous aberration in a game that should be all about the international arena and the domestic scene.

But others might wonder if cricket’s most high-profile event is falling out of love with players from this country.

South Africa’s IPL class of 2018 comprises Faf du Plessis‚ Imran Tahir‚ Chris Morris‚ David Miller‚ Cameron Delport‚ JP Duminy‚ Heinrich Klaasen‚ Quinton de Kock and AB de Villiers.

The list would have included Dale Steyn — probably — and Kagiso Rabada‚ who have been sidelined by injury‚ and Lungi Ngidi‚ who has returned home after the death of his father.

That would have brought the size of the South African contingent to 12: three more than last year’s number before Duminy withdrew to work on his game.

So‚ perhaps the IPL wants South Africans as much as it ever did. Or not.

In 2016 the tournament had 16 players from these shores‚ the same number as in 2015‚ and in 2014 there were 15.

From 2009 to 2012 there were at least 19 South African players and as many as 23‚ twice‚ on franchises’ books.

Francois Brink‚ an agent at One World of Sport‚ has an idea why South Africans and the IPL are becoming estranged bedfellows.

“The Australasian influence at the IPL is massive if you look at the coaches and the backroom staff‚” Brink said‚ and he has a point in that Stephen Fleming‚ Tom Moody‚ Daniel Vettori‚ Ricky Ponting and Brad Hodge are head coaches at five of the eight franchises.

The only South African at that level is Jacques Kallis‚ who is in charge at Kolkata Knight Riders.

That lack of balance could‚ however unconsciously‚ influence which players franchises acquire.

Or‚ as Brink said: “How Ben Cutting can be better than Vernon Philander I just don’t know.”

Cutting‚ a 31-year-old Queenslander who has played four one-dayers and seven T20s for Australia‚ averages less than 25 in all three formats with the bat and more than 25 with the ball.

Philander‚ the owner of 204 Test wickets at 21.46‚ hasn’t been as successful in the other formats at international level. And it bears pointing out that he is represented by Brink’s agency.

But there is no argument that he is a better player‚ and should be a more valuable signing in the IPL‚ even if Asian conditions often don’t allow him to bring out his best‚ than Cutting.

The IPL has indeed favoured Australians over South Africans: 85 of them have been contracted over the years compared to 49 of ours.

Part of why that’s happening‚ Brink said‚ could be because foreigners just don’t get transformation: “I don’t think they understand why we’re doing what we’re doing.

“They’re saying‚ ‘Can we trust what’s coming through [South Africa’s] system?’.

“It’s a skewed perception but perception has a funny way of becoming reality.”

Another theory is that South Africans’ marketability as white-ball players diminished after the 1999 World Cup‚ which they looked on course to win before coming unstuck spectacularly in the tied semi-final against Australia at Edgbaston.

Compared to the five years before that match‚ South Africa won almost 10% fewer one-day internationals in the five years after the fateful day.

Some South Africans have done exceptionally well out of the IPL and other T20 tournaments.

Albie Morkel is one of only seven cricketers to have played more than 300 matches in the format for South Africa and nine franchises in this country‚ England‚ India and West Indies.

Insiders estimate Morkel has made more than R50-million from all that T20ing‚ which they say is more than Graeme Smith earned over the course of his playing career.

Morkel is now 36 and hasn’t picked up a bat in anger since January.

His younger version may be Delport‚ 28‚ who aside from the Dolphins has played T20s for Sydney Thunder‚ Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel‚ Leicestershire‚ Lahore Qualandars‚ Dhaka Dynamites‚ Boost Defenders‚ and Galaxy Gladiators Lantau.

You won’t struggle to work out where most of those teams play‚ but you might need to be told that the last two are part of the Shpageeza tournament in Afghanistan and the Hong Kong T20 Blitz.

Delport’s a long way behind Morkel and his 307 caps. If he ever gets a game for Kallis’ KKR‚ it will be his 140th in the format.

But Delport has done what even Morkel hasn’t and played in a T10 tournament — four matches for Bengal Tigers in Sharjah in December.

Yes‚ T10. It’s a thing.

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