Could the Best play each other while the Rest play Australia and England?
Cricket has many great venues and occasions around the world but the vast majority of international players who have experienced it will concur that, whatever ‘abuse’ they may have endured from partisan crowds while fielding on the boundary or travelling through airports, being part of Australia’s prime-time ‘summer-swing’ of Test cricket in Melbourne and Sydney is one of the best.
The Boxing Day Test match at the MCG and the New Year’s Test at the SCG are iconic sporting events which have shaped the careers of many who have played those games. They are magnificent in (almost) every aspect. The stewards and ‘security’ can be onerous but they are small price to pay for the experience and memories.
For the first time in 12 years South Africa will be returning for Australia’s festive season of cricket now that an impasse has been resolved. A dozen years ago Cricket South Africa insisted that the holiday season of Test cricket should be shared once every four years, that Australia should give up their crowds of 70,000 in Melbourne and 40,000 in Sydney to come and experience the ambience of 3,000 at Kingsmead on Boxing Day followed by a sold-out Newlands, as many as 20,000 - with a temporary stand erected.
Cricket Australia declined. So, CSA said they wouldn’t be coming over. Cricket Australia had always paid a small but not negligible compensation fee to CSA for missing out on their own ‘prime-time’ season once every four years, and they will be doing so again at the end of this year. CSA need all the cash they can get.
But CA may take a dim view of CSA fielding a below-strength team for the third Test, in Sydney. Never mind what view Proteas supporters might take should that happen. The opinions of Test captain, Dean Elgar, would surely be unprintable if a place in the second edition of the World Test Championship final was at stake, which it might well be.
If the contents of a document presented to Cricket South Africa’s Members Council a few days ago are accepted, then South Africa’s new T20 domestic League will be majority owned by the host body. CSA will own 57.5% with SuperSport owning 30%. The remaining 12.5% will be owned by Sundar Rahman, the Indian businessman with a remarkable record. He may be best described as ‘robust’ in his methods and ‘firm’ with his views. He is most certainly uncompromising. Ruthless, many say.
The new league is set to begin in January. It clashes with the second half of Australia’s Big Bash but otherwise it is a ‘window’. Of sorts.
The Sydney Test match cannot begin before January 2nd which means the Proteas will not arrive home before January 8th. The 10-hour time difference between Sydney and South Africa will make it tricky for the players to take to the field, even for T20 cricket, much before January 10th.
The England ODI squad is scheduled to play their three-match series against South Africa “…at the end of January.” It was a Covid rescheduling from 2020. It is part of the Super Series Qualification for the 2023 World Cup, in which South Africa is struggling desperately. The England team has an even more ludicrous schedule than the Indian team. They cannot reschedule. Maybe move a by a day or two, but otherwise no chance.
This is where ‘private owners’ of the six Franchises gets interesting in South Africa’s new league. And let’s not pretend that privatisation is a bad idea. Not only does it ‘work’, but it’s the only financial option available. There is no way CSA can save itself financially without private investment.
So, if a private investor is invited to spend several millions dollars buying a team in the new league, and a couple more million buying the best players available at an auction, what might their reaction be when told that some of their best players will be unavailable for the start of the new league, and again at the end. In fact, they may only be available for a couple of games in the middle.
Will Sundar Rahman be equitable to the well-being of South Africa’s national team? Will the team owners? Should they be? It’s business, after all. Nobody can expect private equity to consider the fortunes and well-being of a national team which is of no financial concern to them.
As I wrote a month ago, the precedent was set when CSA left the IPL ‘decision’ up to the players. Now the situation could be reversed. Does CSA want to compete in the WTC final, to qualify automatically for the 2023 World Cup, or does it want the new T20 league to succeed and bail them out of a downwardly spiralling financial whirlpool? It doesn’t matter whether CSA owns 57.5% or 99% if they don’t hold the best cards, and they don’t. The best cards have $ signs on them.
Stand by for separate national teams. Teams which will compete for national ‘pride’ and teams which will compete against each other for national solvency. Maybe.