South Africa to expand domestic structure
East London and Kimberley are in a battle to become the home cities for one of two new South African franchises while Potchefstroom may be the base for the other, as CSA looks to expand its domestic structure. An insider revealed to ESPNcricinfo that there is talk of increasing the number of franchises from six to eight in order to deepen the talent pool and create a larger professional structure.
"It makes sense for Potchefstroom to have one of the franchises. They have such a good stadium there, all the facilities are within a small distance of each other and there's a population that's very interested in the game and all live just around the ground and university," the source said. "There is obviously the political considerations and with CSA's transformation agenda, putting a franchise in East London may be an option. With administrative issues there and between Kimberley and Bloemfontein, there may be a case for a separate franchise there too."
In 2004, South Africa revamped its domestic system in an attempt to create a strength versus strength structure, similar to Australia's. The 11 provincial teams were contracted into six franchises, with each retaining their identity in the second-tier amateur competition. The function of the provinces is to feed players into the franchise system. It has since become semi-professional and grown to 13 teams.
When the franchises were formed, not all the provincial sides were happy to merge. Border (based in East London), together with Eastern Province (Based in Port Elizabeth), became the Warriors, while Griquas (the Kimberley-based team) and Free State (in Bloemfontein) became the Eagles (now renamed the Knights). However, there as been history of infighting in both. At the Warriors, the argument was whether Port Elizabeth or East London would be considered the main host venue while Griquas initially refused to merge with Free State before agreeing to a joint shareholding of the franchise a season later.
Both East London and Kimberley are considered hotbeds of talent for players of colour. East London is the heartland of black African cricket and with an increased focus on speeding up the pace of transformation, there have long been calls for a team based in the city. Peter Kirsten is one of the people who have long championed the cause for a team there. Kimberley has a significant population of mixed race people so it would make transformation sense for a team there as well.
Potchefstroom, who are currently the second ground of the Johannesburg-based Lions, would not be able to offer those benefits but it does have some of the country's best sports facilities at its High Performance Centre. Touring international teams, most notably Australia, choose to start the stay in South Africa at this venue while in 2010, the Football World Cup winners, Spain, were based there. Potchefstroom recently hosted the Varsity Cup Cricket, a week-long tournament between the country's university teams. It is a venue known for jovial, student, sports-mad crowds, which may also work in its favour when CSA considers where to base a franchise.
The new structure could come into place as early as next season, which would not give the new franchise teams much time to contract players and would also significantly increase the running costs of domestic cricket. "CSA needs to be very careful about this because even though they might have the money for it at the moment with the Rand-Dollar exchange rate, it's a long-term decision," the source said. "And with all the criticism over the strength of the domestic game, maybe it will dilute that even more."
Recent results across the international level has put the domestic system under severe scrutiny; South Africa's Test team lost back to back series, the ODI side are two-nil down against England, the A team has lacked competitiveness and the Under-19s were booted out of the age-group World Cup in the first round. Everything, from the quality of coaches to the extent of the quota system which now requires franchise teams to field six players of colour including three black Africans, is currently being examined.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent