More schedule challenges for SA20 in the next year: Graeme Smith

Stuart Hess Sports reporter
SA20 commissioner Graeme Smith says the league hopes to avoid another clash with the international calendar when the Champions Trophy is expected to coincide with the last week of the local tournament.
SA20 commissioner Graeme Smith says the league hopes to avoid another clash with the international calendar when the Champions Trophy is expected to coincide with the last week of the local tournament.
Image: Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images

The SA20’s reliance on South Africa’s best cricket talent allows the competition to maintain a stronger sense of legitimacy, even as the proliferation of T20 leagues can lead to the integrity of many of those competitions being compromised. 

Graeme Smith, the SA20’s commissioner, said the tournament had carved a footprint for itself, which allowed it to absorb much of the comings and goings of players, which has become a feature of modern cricket, where players can end up participating in two or even three different leagues in less than a month. 

“It is very difficult. We are a majority based South African league, the investment is back into South African cricket. The improvement in the league this year was seeing the standard of the South African players really grow,” said Smith.

The coming and going of international players in the tournament does make a mockery of the league in some eyes. Nicholas Pooran, the left hander from the West Indies played in just three league matches for the Durban Super Giants before heading to the International League T20 in Dubai. He was replaced by Australian Marcus Stoinis who played in five games and then went back to Australia for an international series. Stoinis’s countryman Ashton Agar arrived in Durban as a replacement for Noor Ahmad who was called up by Afghanistan, for the week of the playoffs. 

But that is a problem faced by virtually all T20 Leagues, with the exception of the IPL, which is the only franchise tournament granted its own window by the ICC. 

Smith’s careful balancing act in seeking to outline the SA20’s integrity, despite the movement of international players, is understandable, given that all the teams in the South African tournament are owned by Indian companies which also own teams in the IPL.

“I look at it differently and in a more positive light,” said Smith. “We are blessed to be able to attract the top international talent. Those guys want to be here. I remember having conversations when we were building SA20, and there was no confidence in South African cricket that we would be able to pull it off at this level.”

That scepticism was the result of Cricket SA’s two failed attempts at creating a league previously, including the Global League T20, which actually had a player auction, but subsequently failed to get off the ground because of the absence of a financially workable broadcast deal. 

The SA20 doesn’t have that concern thanks to its partnership with India broadcaster Network 18 and local satellite company SuperSport, which is a shareholder in SA20. “If we look at what we created in two years, it’s amazing. We have gone from a place where international talent hasn’t backed our league, to a point where they want to be a part of it. And now our South African crop of players has, in two years, really developed.” 

Preventing players from moving from one league to another in the middle of a tournament is especially challenging, given how many are becoming freelance contract workers. 

“It is very difficult to restrict talent. There are a lot of challenges involved in attempting to restrict the movement of players,” said Smith.

The struggles of the undermanned Proteas team in New Zealand, because of the unavailability of the nationally contracted players who were stipulated by CSA to participate in the SA20, was another tricky topic that could cause problems in future.

Next year’s Champions Trophy in Pakistan is scheduled for February, and with the Proteas likely to be involved in series before that event to aid with acclimatisation, CSA’s careful management of scheduling is likely to be back in the spotlight. 

Smith hopes it can be avoided. “Engagement about next year’s scheduling is already happening. The Champions Trophy dates are still not cast in stone. There is already a lot of communication happening between CSA and the ICC behind the scenes in terms of scheduling. We will have to work with that in season three. Once information is confirmed then we can make informed decisions.”

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