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South Africa's overblown itinerary

Slaughtering the golden goose

It should come as no surprise to cricket fans that South Africa are preparing to slaughter the golden goose

Neil Manthorp

June 28, 2005

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Martin van Jaarsveld in Twenty20 action. South Africa is eager to grab its slice of the revenue from this new and lucrative form of the game © Getty Images
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We've never been much of a nation when it comes to championing animal rights in South Africa so it should come as no surprise to cricket fans that we are preparing to slaughter the golden goose. Not just the golden goose, mind you - any goose will do. If it's a cricketing goose then it has no chance down here.

While the rest of the cricket-playing world has been complaining about the excess for years, decades in some cases, it's only the elite few of our international players who have been sounding the alarm bells about "burnout". Almost nobody, it seems, talks about audience apathy despite overwhelming evidence to suggest that we are a little bored by the amount of cricket being played.

South Africans may not have played any cricket for the last couple of months (with apologies to the 30+ men disguised as Kolpakian Englishmen in the county championship) but that does not mean to say we have been idle - far from it. No less than three new tournaments and/or series are in the process of being planned or confirmed.

There must be half a dozen promoters or entrepreneurs planning Twenty20 tournaments around the world at the moment but an England-based company called IIC (geddit?) is at the head of the queue. It stands for "Investing in Cricket" and their dream is to have a bi-annual 20-over Champions Trophy for the domestic winners from all countries who play the shortest form of the game.

It's actually a fabulous idea and it's no wonder that international administrators love it because it gives a direction in which 20-over cricket can grow and expand without eating into and ultimately devouring 50-over internationals.

Unfortunately for IIC they need ECB approval to hold their proposed tournament in September and that approval has not been forthcoming. Which is where South Africa steps in.

Where there is fiscal health in the English game, there is famine in the South African one. The 11 unions and six franchises are all struggling to make ends meet and survive only on handouts from the national body, Cricket South Africa. The bad news is that Cricket South Africa is heading for a loss of approximately 48 million rand next year. Not much to hand out.

The idea of a 20-over tournament involving Delhi, Surrey, Northerns, Wellington and an international all-stars XI, for example, appeals to South Africa's administrators like a jackpot win. The idea is for the tournament to kickstart the northern and southern hemisphere seasons in March and September respectively and South Africa will bite the hands off any rival to host both.

On top of that the national team is set to play three hastily scheduled full one-day internationals against Zimbabwe at the beginning of August. The guaranteed television revenue from Supersport will be welcome, naturally, while the opportunity for Graeme Smith to serve out the remaining two games of his over-rate suspension before New Zealand arrive would be no more than a happy coincidence. Surely?

But wait - there's more! A recent report from London suggests that the newly formed Afro-Asian Cricket Cooperation is set announce a three-match series between the best of the two continents, also set for August. The fact that Zimbabwe are supposed to be playing against New Zealand during that month provides more than a hint that Zimbabwe are expecting the Kiwis to pull out of that tour. Or maybe they simply accept that a "best of Africa XI" is very unlikely to include any Zimbabweans - with apologies to Heath Streak. Quite how many Kenyans and Ugandans can hope for selection is another matter.

So if there's cricket to played, South Africa will play. South Africa will host it, South Africa will promote it, South Africa will televise it - and South Africa will hope to improve their impoverished bottom line.

There's been talk of killing the golden goose of one-day cricket almost since it was "invented" in 1970, but it hasn't caught on down here in SA. After all, they've been making foie gras in France for over a century and the goose population still seems healthy enough. If not the poor, over-stuffed, force-fed geese themselves, of course.

Neil Manthorp is a South African broadcaster and journalist, and head of the MWP Sport agency

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Neil Manthorp Neil Manthorp is a writer and broadcaster based in Cape Town where he started the independent sports news agency MWP Media in 1992. He has covered more than 40 tours and 120 Test matches since South Africa's return to international cricket and Zimbabwe's elevation to Test status. A regular commentator for SABC radio, Neil has also joined the host radio teams in West Indies, New Zealand, Australia and England - where he preferred Test Match Special's pork pies to their chocolate cake. He recently completed Gary Kirsten's biography.

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