South Africa news June 7, 2011

SA provincial cricket set to become semi-professional

Cricket South Africa will spend R8 million ($1,142,857) on a new semi-professional competition that will replace the amateur provincial format from the 2011-12 season.

The 13 provincial teams currently in the fray, will be able to contract seven players, who must be South Africa-based and qualified, and not Kolpak-contracted. The competition will consist of first-class three-day cricket, 45-over and 20-over matches.

"The players will be paid out of our [CSA's] budget," Gerald Majola, chief executive of CSA told ESPNcricinfo. "We will also look for a sponsor for the competition." The competition was sponsored by Standard Bank until the end of the 2010-11 season, when the company ended all sports sponsorships. CSA are yet to announce a new sponsor for the competition.

The semi-professional league will provide players with the opportunity to be selected for a seventh franchise, which will compete in the Twenty20 competition along with the six existing franchises. The seventh outfit will operate out of the High Performance Centre in Pretoria, overseen by former national coach Corrie van Zyl. The semi-professional seventh side will be allowed to contract four international players and field a maximum of three per match, while the other six franchises can sign two foreign players apiece.

Under the current system, the six franchises play each other, while the 13 provinces, affiliated to the different franchises, compete in another league. The amateurs turning out for the provinces were not allowed to be contracted, but had the chance to be selected by the franchises based on their performances. Now they have a chance to earn more since they have the opportunity to sign contracts with the provinces.

Majola said the changes were made in order to "bridge the gap between provincial and franchise cricket". With 13 amateur teams feeding the country's six franchises, there was concern among cricket administrators that players were either lost in the system or struggled to make the leap into professional cricket when coming up from the provinces.

There is also an effort being made to smooth the transition process from domestic to international cricket with the MTN40 changing to become a 45-over competition. Andrew Hudson, convenor of selectors, had in April said that the MTN40 would change in order to bring it more into line with the ODI format. The change does not exactly mirror the international competition, but was made with some elements of marketing in mind.

"We had to also consider the crowd figures," Majola said. "If we play 50-overs and start at 2pm we will have empty stadiums, especially mid-week. We will start the 45-overs game at 4pm. All the rules will be the same as ODIs - there will be three Powerplays and no substitutions. The bowlers will bowl nine overs each."

South Africa's limited-overs competition was a 45-over event until two seasons ago, when it changed to 40-overs. It allowed franchises to name squads of 13 players per match and make use of substitutes. It included three Powerplays in the first season and was reduced to two in 2010-11. The innovation was in keeping with an anticipated change in the ODI format, which now appears to have been shelved.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent