South Africa news March 5, 2013

SA seek root of T20 toil

The lack of a major franchise tournament capable of attracting the best players in the world could be undermining the international side

The scuppering of the proposed Southern Premier League competition almost four years ago could be behind South Africa's struggles in Twenty20 cricket.

Administrators and players alike identified the absence of a high-profile tournament as being one of the reasons South Africa lags behind in the shortest format, following their defeat to Pakistan on Sunday. Not only did the loss cost them the series in embarrassing fashion as they were bowled out for their lowest total, but it brought South Africa's T20 tactics into question.

The answers may lie in the lack of development in the country's 20-over game caused by the aborted tournament. Before T20 leagues began mushrooming, the boards of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand were in talks to start a Super Rugby-style 20-over competition, combining the clout of their three domestic markets.

The plan failed for three reasons, the biggest being the IPL. None of the boards wanted to compete with the Indian tournament but all of them needed Indian players for it to be successful, which the BCCI does not allow. There was also the issue of finding a window and managing the massive logistics involved in playing across three countries with wide time differences.

Instead, South Africa settled for a share in the Champions League T20. Australia did the same but also went ahead with the Big Bash (which later became the Big Bash League), while New Zealand remained as they were. All three continued to supply players for the IPL, with South Africa contributing the third-most (after India and Australia). They all also continued to try and entice foreign heavyweights to play in their tournaments, with Australia having the most success and South Africa the most frustration.

As a result, the South African domestic T20 event is largely low profile, with few big names. "The rand as a currency is not great so what we can offer these guys is not much compared to what they would get elsewhere," Jacques Faul, the former CSA acting CEO, said.

While that may not seem crucial at face value, it has had some effect. Faf du Plessis, South Africa's T20 captain, said the knowledge transfer from internationals to local players aids development and cited Mike Hussey as having an influence on his career rise through their involvement at Chennai Super Kings. Since last year's IPL, du Plessis' stocks have risen considerably. Similarly, the Lions CEO, Cassim Docrat, praised the impact Sohail Tanvir and Dirk Nannes had on their young bowlers such as Chris Morris and Hardus Viljoen.

In the current Ram Slam tournament, there are six overseas players: Tanvir, Samit Patel, Azhar Mahmood, Owais Shah, Ravi Bopara and Scott Styris. The most popular name on the radar was Chris Gayle, who signed for the Dolphins last season for a fee that was thought to be R1 million (US$111,111), but never arrived because of injury.

Other marquee T20 players are often too expensive or otherwise occupied and so cannot participate. Indications are that South Africa will soon come up with greater amounts of cash to entice them, in the aftermath of the bonus scandal.

"We are going to make some decisions that people will question but it is because we are planning for the World T20 next year"
Faf du Plessis

That is not the only thing being looked at to revitalise the domestic tournament. Marc Jury, CSA's commercial manager, said the upcoming winter will be used to "repackage" the event. "We accept that South Africa has lost ground domestically because other countries have started creating unique content for their T20 competition and ours is something very similar to the 50-over game," he said.

From a marketing perspective, CSA will look at "moving away from too many midweek games" and may even consider introducing double and triple-headers. "We need to bring the carnival atmosphere back in," Jury said.

Stadium attendances have improved over the last season, primarily because of the lure of seeing the No. 1 Test side in the world and also because CSA has taken the game to smaller centres such as Paarl, East London and Potchefstroom. With that in mind, there is a strong chance people could be lured back to live cricket.

The other aspect that will convince them is quality. South Africa's woeful display against Pakistan was an extreme example, especially as it equalled their biggest loss in the format, but it illustrated why some stay away. The unsettled nature of the squad, a batting order that still succumbs under pressure and resting of their best players are other reasons.

But du Plessis explained South Africa have a vision for the future. "We are going to make some decisions that people will question but it is because we are planning for the World T20 next year," he said. "There is no point we use all our more experienced players in the lead-up if they are not going to play for us then. We are trying a few things."

To some, it may seem as though the experiment has never stopped. T20 remains the least successful version of the game for South Africa. They have lost 37.5% of matches, compared with 34% in ODIs and 33% in Tests, and are currently ranked sixth. Although their win percentage is fractionally higher than any other team, they have never won a knockout match in four editions of the World Twenty20 and lost all of their Super Eight games in Sri Lanka last year.

As the search for major tournament silverware continues, South Africa's main source of their concern comes from the domestic set-up, which has been so effective in dishing up ready-made Test players but seems unable to do the same in the shorter versions. Unless they can move on from their shattered SPL dreams quickly, the pipeline will continue to leak instead of flow smoothly.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ibrar on March 7, 2013, 18:31 GMT

    South Africa does not give importance to the T20's thats the only reason. I dont think lack of competing and high profile domestic T20 competition is the reason.

  • Altaf on March 7, 2013, 16:29 GMT

    It's not matter of local league. Remember, SA lost 1 of 5 matches in opening T20 WC 07 before IPL and other local league started, and repeated same performance in next WC after playing single season of IPL. Local league does n't have to deal with performance. To play at international level in any format requires talent, skill and experience which current team lacks. Selection is in doubt with Faf Du Plesis, who is good in longer format, was in T20 squad whereas specialist like Albie Morkel, De Cock, Bosman not in the team. They need to be serious if really want to dominant in shorter format as well.

  • zaf on March 7, 2013, 14:15 GMT

    There is no doubt PAK TEAM is great T20 team in the world. They have many outstanding match winner players. We missed to see Smith, Hamla, Abdul Razzak in current series...

  • Andrew on March 7, 2013, 9:34 GMT

    T20 cricket is much of a lottery ... you win the toss ... put the team on the back foot ... win the game at a canter ... someone clouts you round the park ... its their day ... they win ... Now 20 overs 120 balls is not a long time to recover an innings in the event of a collapse ... T20 is not everyone's cup of tea ... A player like Shane Watson does well in that format ... he is a pressure player ... Mahammed Hafeez too has found his groove there ... But ... South Africa have had a major reshuffle in the ranks and they cannot expect to get results overnight ... The ideal T20 side would be a batting wicketkeeper and 10 big hitting allrounders ...

  • Wesley on March 7, 2013, 7:00 GMT

    So we are hit and miss in the shortest version of the game, remind me how this makes a massive difference in life.

    History remembers those that don the whites and baggy caps, nobody remembers T20 hit and giggles players, Gul's and Malinga's will fade away into cricketing obscurity because nobody will remember players of this format.

    So we lost a T20, how is this worse than losing 3-0 in 5 less days of cricket played?

  • Amjad on March 7, 2013, 6:00 GMT

    The Rand is not so great hehe...I bet this line can beat anything to page 2 any day, how about Pakistan is a way better T20 team? @JoeMaya: Exactly what I would like to know.

  • Dummy4 on March 7, 2013, 4:55 GMT

    Agree main problem isn't competition - contrast Australia/India success in T20s with Pakistan/Sri Lanka/West Indies. India won the World Cup before the IPL started. Main issue is key players missing and instability in the team. But it may be the price to pay for being #1 in tests, really hard to be dominant in all three formats with the amount of cricket played. I think one of the reasons for SA's success is we have a more reasonable schedule than India/England/Australia and less injuries -of course, we do have the best players :). Our best batsmen won't play T20s now which may a good thing from a technique perspective. Solution may be to encourage T20 specialists and maybe less experimentation in the team

  • Mike on March 6, 2013, 23:48 GMT

    Pakistan already has a local T20 tournament Faisal Bank :P

  • M on March 6, 2013, 23:08 GMT

    T20 needs an overhaul. The variation in attention given to the format is now apparent. I am a fan of test cricket and as someone commented here, yes I would bite anyone's hand off and sacrifice a dozen T20 trophies to whitewash RSA in the series just finished. However, I do think T20 has its place. It might be worth considering forcing a certain quota of players under the age of, say 21, to play in teams for international T20 matches. This would help youngsters worldwide gain exposure and would also encourage all nations to approach T20 with the same mindset. At present it is quite unfair that some nations just don't give a hoot while others do try to field their best XI.

  • des on March 6, 2013, 21:26 GMT

    Hmm, I see De Kock just smashed another good innings in the tour game against Pakistan today, not long ago he hit a brilliant 120 in a T20, yet he wasn't selected for either the T20 or ODIs vs Pakistan. Yet we select players like Behardien and Ontong and wonder why we lose.