Explainer - What's different about the SA20? Did SA really forfeit ODIs for the new league?

Who are the expensive buys? What is the prize money? We have got everything covered

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Aiden Markram, Wayne Parnell, Rashid Khan, David Miller, Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock with the SA20 trophy  •  SA20

Aiden Markram, Wayne Parnell, Rashid Khan, David Miller, Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock with the SA20 trophy  •  SA20

After three attempts at starting a franchise T20 tournament, South Africa have finally done it. It's not the Global League T20, it's not the Mzansi Super League, it's the SA20 and it kicks off on Tuesday. Here's your guide for the latest league on the circuit.

Is it still a T20 tournament if it doesn't have a T in it?

Ah ha, so you've picked up on this anomaly. Well, not only does this T20 tournament not contain a T but it also does not have the words Premier or League in it. So it's truly entering a naming phenomenon of its very own. In fact, the SA20 commissioner Graeme Smith said they specifically left out the T in order to show their intention to be different.

So what's different about it?

Actually, there is one big thing. Captains will be allowed to name 13 players before the toss and whittle that down to the final XI after the toss. That means they can make tactical team choices once they know whether they'll be batting or bowling first. But other than that, even without the T, it's still a T20 tournament and it takes pretty much the same shape as another one you may have heard of. There are six teams in total and they will play a round-robin phase, with each team playing the other home and away, followed by semi-finals and a final. There was a pre-tournament auction and each team is allowed a squad of 18 players, the bulk of whom are South African. On match days, they will be allowed to field four foreign players in each XI.

This sounds a bit like the IPL…

Ka-ching! All six teams are owned by IPL franchises and they've even translated their cutesy names onto South African cities. We've got the Joburg Super Kings, the Pretoria Capitals, the Durban Super Giants, the Sunrisers Eastern Cape, the Paarl Royals and everyone's favourite reinterpretation, MI Cape Town (pronounced MY Cape Town).

This must mean there's big money involved, right?

You've got that right. Big bids from IPL teams is one of the reasons no South Africa businesses were able to buy into the league. Although the figures have not been made public, it has been reported that the franchises were all bought for over a million dollars, with the most expensive being Johannesburg and Cape Town, who reportedly cost USD 28 million each. And the good news is that these investors can expect a return as early as the first year. Thanks to a decent broadcast deal in India, and subsequently with other global television providers, the league is expected to make money as early as the first year, even after CSA initially predicted it would take five years.
Prize money of more than USD 4 million is on offer. There were also mega bucks thrown around at the auction. Tristan Stubbs was the most expensive buy at USD 520,000 (which is worth a whopping R9.2 million) while other Rand millionaires include Rilee Rossouw, Donovan Ferreira, Marco and Duan Jansen, Lungi Ngidi, Wayne Parnell, Sisanda Magala, George Linde, Heinrich Klaasen, Reeza Hendricks, Tabraiz Shamsi, Rassie van der Dussen, Daryn Dupavillon, Evan Jones, Bjorn Fortuin, Keshav Maharaj, Janneman Malan and Dwaine Pretorius.

You've mentioned a lot of names but what about South Africa's white-ball captain Temba Bavuma?

Now you've hit a nerve. Bavuma, who had a base price of R850,000 (USD 50,000) went unsold at the auction after a prolonged period of injury and poor form. At the time of the auction - September 19 - Bavuma had not played competitive cricket for more than three months after suffering an elbow injury that ruled him out of South Africa's entire tour to England and his T20I record was underwhelming. He had played 25 matches with an average of 26.86 and most concerningly, a strike rate of 120.60. Still, he admitted to being disappointed at being overlooked for the tournament. And then things got worse. Bavuma struggled on his return to action - he was dismissed for two ducks and 3 in a series against India and scored 70 runs in five T20 World Cup matches at a strike rate of under 100.
There have since been question marks over whether, as a batter, he merits a place in South Africa's T20 side at all, never mind whether he should be captaining it. Considering Bavuma is South Africa's first black African captain and has shepherded the team through some of its toughest times, the whole situation is just messy.
But he is not the only one who was overlooked. Dean Elgar and Keegan Petersen are among the more well-known South African players who will sit out. South African allrounder Andile Phehlukwayo was also unsold in the auction but was picked up as a wild card player by Paarl Royals.

And the snubs were not only limited to players, were they?

That's true. An entire region of South Africa has been completely left out of the SA20 as it becomes increasingly sidelined from high-profile cricket. What's called the central area, which comprises the province of the Free State and includes the cities of Bloemfontein and Kimberley, does not have an SA20 team and so will not host any matches or play any part in the event. Considering that the Bloemfontein-Kimberley franchise, called the Knights, were one of the six franchises in South Africa's former top tier and that the Free State provincial side plays in Division 1 of the of the current domestic structure, this is quite the cold shoulder.
While the central region may not be the sexiest part of the country, it has produced some of the country's finest cricketers, including Allan Donald, and is home to some of the top cricketing schools in the country such as Grey College. Whether that talent is being absorbed into other areas or completely neglected remains to be seen but for now, the 3 million people of the Free State will not see any of the glitz and glam of the SA20 but their consolation prize is that the three World Cup Super League ODIs against England between January 27 and February 1, will be played there.

Wait, there's ODIs in the middle of the SA20?

There are indeed and it was unavoidable. These are the matches that were postponed in November 2020 when an outbreak of Covid-19 in both the South African and England camps and the discovery of the beta variant resulted in England going home early. Not only is there a big financial incentive from broadcast rights to play these matches but winning at least one of them is a must for South Africa if they are to automatically qualify for the 2023 World Cup. South Africa are currently 11th on the table and, after forfeiting three ODIs in Australia to accommodate for… you guessed it - the SA20 - they only have five matches remaining. They have to win at least three of those five to slip into eighth spot and if they don't, they'll head to Zimbabwe for the qualifying event in June.

Wow, this is all getting quite depressing quite quickly. Can we just talk about David Miller and the pink plasters on his nipples?

If you haven't seen it yet, well, you simply have to. The adverts are nothing short of spectacular. They feature Quinton de Kock in a bejewelled hat and wings, Shamsi making a phone call from a neon pink platform shoe, Parnell snorkeling in a bathtub, women's captain Dane van Niekerk jamming in some glittery clothes and David Miller, with his unique nipple covers looking what Janneman Malan, dressed as gold dust, calls "silly," all set to Pharrell Williams' "Happy". What more can you ask for?
We'll tell you! The SA20, much like the Hundred, will feature some of South Africa's top musical artists at the grounds, headlined by Master KG (not KG Rabada), famed for his hit song Jerusalema (you have to know the dance) and rapper Sho Majozi, who appeared on the Ellen show with her track John Cena. Just get with it. You know you want to.

And in the end, this is all for the benefit of South African cricket, innit?

We hope so, because Cricket South Africa sure as hell needs it. The organisation is under extreme financial stress, thanks, in no small way, to Thabang Moroe's wasteful years as CEO between 2017 and 2019, when they also lost almost all their sponsors. The national men's team and all three domestic competitions remain without corporate backing and CSA has recorded two years of losses, which will be followed by a third this year. Their cash reserves are so low (down from over a billion rand a few years ago to just tens of millions now) that some insiders predict they will not be able to survive beyond another year or two unless something fills the coffers soon and this is supposed to be it.
But it's not just about the money. Morale in South African cricket is at all-time low, with the Test team performing disastrously in Australia and the white-ball sides as far as it gets from a World Cup trophy. The country needs an injection of fun and a place where players can develop out of the stodgy style of play that has come to dominate the game and towards a more proactive and entertaining way of being.

How will we keep an eye on this tournament, with the ILT20, BPL, BBL running at the same time?

You're asking us! The only advice we can offer will complicate your calendar even more. There's also the inaugural Under-19 Women's T20 World Cup, New Zealand men's series in India, Ireland men's series in Zimbabwe, Pakistan Women in Australia and India and West Indies Women in South Africa all on at the same time. Enjoy.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent