South African cricket is searching for a silver lining after the dark clouds of a disappointing World Cup, a humbling tour of India, and, back home, an administration facing multiple legal battles and millions of rands of debt. Dale Steyn and JP Duminy might have spotted one such bright spot: next month's Mzansi Super League (MSL), which, they believe, could prompt a revival for the flagging domestic game and mine the depths of what looks like a shallow talent pool to prop up the national side.
"It's huge for domestic cricket in South Africa. If you look back two, three or maybe even five years, domestic cricket was on a downward spiral," Duminy, who will play for Paarl Rocks, said at a launch event for the second edition of the MSL in Cape Town. "The revival of the T20 game and the model of the MSL is something I am quite excited about. You have international cricketers moulded with young talent and that's going only going to leave us in good stead."
While Cape Town Blitz's Steyn acknowledged that the MSL cannot be compared to its bigger and more established brothers, especially the IPL, he said it is gaining ground. "The IPL is one of those untouchable leagues because it seems like in every IPL team, they have got at least five international Indian players as well as four overseas (stars), so there's a lot of high-quality international experience in the IPL teams. In the MSL, you maybe get three or four (internationals), but it's still good. From last year when we played, it didn't feel easy so that means there is some quality," he said.
"It's been Monday to Friday training and trying to stay fit. If you get off that wheel, you lose your fitness, you lose your competitive edge and it's something that I've tried to hold on to" Dale Steyn
Steyn looked at the MSL as a way for franchise hopefuls to force their way into the national reckoning. He singled out Rassie van der Dussen, the top scorer in the inaugural event and one of the brightest sparks in an otherwise dismal World Cup, as a player who used the tournament to make a case for selection.
"I don't think many people knew who Rassie van der Dussen was before the MSL last year and he ended up becoming player of the tournament," Steyn said. "He is putting up his hand for Test selection now. Dreams do come true if you take the opportunities. Whoever is young and up and coming, there is a great opportunity."
The tournament is also a chance for some of South Africa's more established players to rediscover their form and confidence in an environment, which Steyn said didn't present "as much pressure as international cricket", but still demanded a high standard. "Some of the senior players are also going to be enjoyable to watch and it's an opportunity for those guys to show that we are international players and this is why we belong here," he said.
Steyn put himself firmly in that category of players. Though he retired from red-ball cricket in August and has not played a competitive fixture since May, he remains available for white-ball selection and has his sights set on next year's T20 World Cup. Steyn was ruled out of the World Cup with a shoulder injury and was not considered for South Africa's T20s in India after CSA's medical team deemed him unfit, but after spending the winter working on his fitness, he said he was ready to go.
"Everyone looks at you and thinks that the last time they saw you was a certain injury but I'm fine. I'm excited to get back on the park and play cricket again," he said. "I haven't played much since the World Cup because there hasn't been much happening. But there's no rest. It's been Monday to Friday training and trying to stay fit. If you get off that wheel, you lose your fitness, you lose your competitive edge and it's something that I've tried to hold on to."
For Steyn, the quality of the quicks are the biggest drawcard the MSL will offer, not just in his squad, which includes recent Test debutant Anrich Nortje and Pakistan international Wahab Riaz, but across the board. Kyle Abbott will play for Durban Heat, Kagiso Rabada for Jozi Stars, Beuran Hendricks for Nelson Mandela Bay Giants, Hardus Viljoen for the Rocks, and Lungi Ngidi and Lutho Sipamla for Tshwane Spartans.
"I love fast bowlers. They get me excited. Anrich, last year, bowled rapid and set the tone for how I wanted to play the tournament. You want to outdo your team-mate in some sense. If you've got all these quicks in one team, one guy is trying to bowl 140, the next guy is trying to bowl 145, the next guy is trying to bowl 150, it's good for the team," Steyn remarked.