The argument most often associated with football and, more recently, rugby will now dominate cricket as more and more T20 leagues squeeze international fixtures into smaller and smaller windows. As more and more full members turn to T20 leagues as sources of income, two-way international cricket risks being eclipsed. And history may remember South Africa’s decision to pull out of these ODIs to focus on kicking off their T20 league as the first domino. So why did CSA make this decision and what could be the wider ramifications?
On the face of it, all CSA have done is withdraw from a three-game ODI series, seemingly a much smaller waiver of a bilateral deal than Australia withdrew from three Tests last March. But these are not just any ODIs. These are ODIs that are part of the World Cup Super League, where South Africa are in 11th place, outside the automatic qualifying zone. Forfeiting their points, which will go to eighth-placed Australia, South Africa will have just eight games left to try to finish in the top eight. These matches are against India (three, away), England (three, at home) and the Netherlands (two, at home). Even eight wins could leave South Africa short of the points tally they need to go straight to the 2023 World Cup. Next year’s qualifying event is a real possibility for South Africa. South, which could give the ICC a potentially resounding pre-World Cup tournament, but that’s another story.
While there’s no guarantee playing the games in Australia would have improved South Africa’s chances, it would have at least given them more opportunities, so you’d assume the ASC have a very a good reason to potentially entice the team to take the scenic route to the World Cup. Financially, yes.
CSA is aiming to launch a new T20 franchise league in January, at the same time the ODIs were to be played, with the aim of making it the second biggest in the world after the IPL. Tenders for all six teams close today and IPL owners and large corporations are said to be among those interested. Sundar Raman, the former chief operating officer of IPL, and South African broadcasters SuperSport hold stakes in the league and CSA projections show he is earning the kind of money that will leave the board less dependent on India for the benefits of the bilateral series and more autonomous. . But for the league to work it needs top players, and that includes those who would have been part of an ODI squad in Australia. So, instead of being there, the big names will be at home playing in the league and giving it the seed capital it needs to succeed.
Ok, how much money are we talking about?
In an April working paper, the CSA predicted the league would break even after four years and turn a profit from the fifth year. Over ten years, he estimated costs at $56 million and revenues at $119 million, which will leave the board with a profit of $63 million, much more money than he wins with bilateral cricket. And that’s just the benefit for CSA. From its first year, the league will pay players exceptional salaries in US dollars, which dwarfs the rand amounts they earn from domestic franchises and even international home cricket. This is despite the tournament competing with leagues such as UAE T20 and BBL, which are expected to take place at the same time.
In short, the league is the only way for CSA to keep cricket financially viable given the unsustainability of international cricket, where it only makes money by hosting India. Even in the summer of 2019-20 when England and Australia visited South Africa, CSA reported a loss.
But what’s at stake if you miss a World Cup?
Financially, not much. CSA could earn around $2 million in entry fees and endorsements, but there are longer-term consequences around sponsorship, for example, that could cost more. You imagine there will be few kit manufacturers who will go out of their way to put their name on the jersey of a team that has not qualified for a World Cup.
Of course, the World Cup is not just about money. For the players, it’s a chance to win a major trophy and reach what administrators, including CSA board chairman Lawson Naidoo, call the “peak” of their careers.
Many players chart their career trajectories with the World Cups in mind and may view the event as a swan song or a reason to keep going. For South African players, there is even more importance attached to a World Cup, as they have never won one, and even more so now, as they are due to host the next edition of the tournament, in 2027. on the impression it would create if the hosts of the 2027 World Cup miss the 2023 World Cup, ASC CEO Pholetsi Moseki told ESPNcricinfo it would be a “disaster”, which only means the pressure is on South African players to qualify.
What do players think of all this?
The word from the ASC and inside sources is that while the players would have preferred to take part in the ODIs in Australia, they understand the situation their organization finds itself in and have accepted their fate, as well as the inevitability of global change in cricket. . Their association, the South African Cricketers’ Association (SACA), and its parent body, the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations (FICA), have long called for the ICC to better monitor the situation and regulate cricket league slots. while leaving space for bilateral cricket.
The problem, as Moseki pointed out, is that several members want dedicated slots for their respective T20 leagues, which not only leaves little room for international cricket, but also diminishes the quality of the leagues. South Africa, for example, will take place alongside the UAE T20 and BBL, and will compete for both players and eyeballs. The CSA hopes that the strong contingent of domestic players in South Africa, compared to the United Arab Emirates, will ensure that the quality of cricket in the South African league is attractive enough to draw eyes and money to them, while that the favorable time zone, compared to that of Australia, could do the same. But it remains to be seen whether they will attract bigger global stars than these leagues. And there’s also the tricky question of which league their own free agents will choose. Will the Faf du Plessis opt for the Big Bash or the CSA league? We’ll find out in a few days, which could also give some insight into how players perceive the South African league compared to others.
So where does all of this leave world cricket?
With a problem. A large.
Naturally, there will also be concerns about other formats, and there’s a chance there will be fewer bilateral T20Is and more T20 leagues. The tests, which are the most expensive to organize and the least lucrative, could be limited to the Big Three, and occasionally to Pakistan and South Africa, although all members stressed a commitment to the format. Financially, many may simply not be able to afford to participate in test cricket.
We could also see international cricket being played at different times. South Africa are already talking about starting their international season in August (technically still winter) if need be, and finishing it after the New Year’s Test in the first week of January to host the league. Australia will do something similar from next year.
At the end of this, world cricket could be fundamentally different. The signs have been there for some time, from central contract disputes in places like the West Indies to countries fielding different teams in different formats at the same time, as England and India have done recently, but here we have given a national council, it is not the BCCI that makes the decision to place its own national interests above an international commitment, which has an impact on a major tournament. It’s sending a strong message. Things will no longer be the same.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s correspondent in South Africa