Champions League Twenty20 2010 September 28, 2010

Another organisational triumph for South Africa

The cricket, rugby and football versions of the World Cup have all come and gone without a hitch on the southern tip of Africa in the last 15 years. Now every imaginable ICC tournament has, too

He was young, probably a beer or six to the good, and having a good time. That described many spectators at the Champions League Twenty20 final between the Warriors and the Chennai Super Kings at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on Sunday.

But it couldn't last. As the heaving sell-out crowd contemplated its navel during the last few featureless overs of a one-sided game, a fight broke out on the grass embankment beyond the south-west boundary.

Several minutes of mad melee ensued before the young fella above was tossed roughly onto a vacant patch of grass. He landed heavily and lay quite still until security staff approached and carried him to safer pastures. Slowly, they maneuvered him upright. He stood swaying slightly, looking like he had encountered a world he had not known existed. The good time was over, some of the beer had no doubt been knocked out of him, and he no longer felt that young.

And that was about as bad as things got during the CLT20. For the rest, it was another organisational triumph for South Africa, cricket's default host country.

How the organisers of the Commonwealth Games must envy South Africa's spotless track record. That is, if they have the time for reflection as they keep an eye out for falling footbridges, broken beds, and slithering snakes.

The cricket, rugby and football versions of the World Cup have all come and gone without a hitch on the southern tip of Africa in the last 15 years. Now every imaginable ICC tournament has, too.

The CLT20 is just the latest of these. Two weeks of seamlessly sound organisation, stadiums sometimes packed to capacity, good weather - the semi-final between the Chennai Super Kings and the Royal Challengers Bangalore in Durban was the only match affected by rain, and even then innings were reduced by just three overs - well-behaved fans (almost all of them) and, for the most part, cracking cricket made for another fine sporting spectacle.

That, in a country where decent public transport is an alien concept, crime and its shadow of fear are pervasive and the locals have a nasty reputation for treating foreigners as if all they're good for is stealing their women and jobs.

How does South Africa keep getting it right? "Our stadiums are world-class, and we have good administrators who know how to put on good events," said Titans chief executive Elise Lombard, who runs the Centurion stadium where six of the games were played. "Events like the CLT20 come in with their own team to run things. In these cases it's a question of managing relationships, but we have to make sure we are not bulldozed."

Lombard said the first of the two Centurion double-headers and the semi-final between the Warriors and South Australia were sold out. After that match, the Warriors players made a circuit of the ground to salute a crowd that had supported them as if they were their own. In a town where the Titans, South Africa's most successful franchise, have built a strong tradition, that is no small matter. Then again, South Africans of all stripes are highly likely to unite behind any team taking on Australian opposition.

"Our stadiums are world-class, and we have good administrators who know how to put on good events"
Titans chief executive Elise Lombard

The next day during the final at the Wanderers, the stands were yellow with Chennai supporters, whose voices soared above those of the Warriors fans. Many of them would be identified as part of South Africa's large Asian community, but not all.

As with everything South African, race and ethnicity are prominent in discussions on the game's future. Cricket is the next most popular sport in the country after football, but crowds still feature few black faces.

"We need to get the new target market to the stadiums," Lombard said. "Our figures for participation are good, but we need to see that in the stadiums as well."

Like Lombard, Warriors chief executive Dave Emslie saw South Africa's solid cricket infrastructure as an incentive to award events to the country. The compatible time difference between the subcontinent and Africa was another factor, and the strong relationship between South Africa and India, the game's superpower, no doubt led to "a bit of brotherhood at work in the ICC boardroom".

To hear Emslie tell it, things will only get better for Twenty20 devotees, particularly those in South Africa. "There's going to be massive growth in international T20 cricket, with huge tournaments taking place. And three years from now the CLT20 will probably be back in South Africa."

For the Warriors, the tournament was a classic tale of going from rags to riches. "Four years ago we came last in every competition we played in," Emslie said. Now he has to decide what to do with the franchise's share of the US$1million he estimates they won. Actually, the decision has already been made.

"Half the money goes to the players, and there's a profit share system involving the other franchises," Emslie said. "But our job as a franchise is to grow players for South Africa, and we'll continue to put money into our amateur structures to do so. We see ourselves as a factory for the South African team."

Emslie credits the Warriors' main sponsors, Chevrolet, with a large part of the team's success, saying they have given the previously impoverished franchise the means to operate at higher levels of professionalism.

The board to which Emslie reports is known to be among the least meddling in South Africa, perhaps because blacks have been playing cricket in the Eastern Cape for more than a century and need no convincing to continue doing so.

Doubtless they will still be doing so a hundred years from now, when the Patagonia Panthers play the Arctic Aces in the T5 World Challenge final in the Makhaya Ntini Dome in Mdingi. Game on.

Telford Vice is a freelance cricket writer in South Africa

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