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News

Smith hopes SA20 will help end South Africa's World Cup wait

League commissioner hopes the tournament will give more players exposure to the big stage and high-pressure games

Graeme Smith hopes the SA20 will create a pipeline of talent for South Africa  •  Getty Images

Graeme Smith hopes the SA20 will create a pipeline of talent for South Africa  •  Getty Images

Graeme Smith and Mark Boucher are hopeful that the SA20, South Africa's new franchise T20 league, will help the national team finally win a World Cup.
"I actually thought we had a strong team in this World Cup in Australia, I thought we had a good chance," Smith, the SA20 commissioner, said at an event in Mumbai. "But obviously disappointed with the way we finished. I think what we want to create in this league is that there's so much talent - hope we can develop that talent to play under pressure on a global stage.
"I know I keep talking about the IPL but you look at the amount of strong cricketers that have come through in the IPL," Smith said. "Looking at trying to find 15 players, hopefully there's 25-35 players in the next couple of years at a level where it makes the selectors jobs very, very difficult. Those that are used to playing big games, exposed to big games. Unfortunately South Africa has to deal with these questions all the time until they actually win a tournament."
South Africa have not won a men's World Cup in 16 attempts - eight ODI World Cups and eight T20 World Cups. While they have come close in knockout games a number of times, they failed to make the semi-finals in five of the last six ICC white-ball events. In the 2022 T20 World Cup, South Africa lost their last group match to Netherlands and did not progress to the knockouts.
Boucher, whose tenure as South Africa head coach ended after the T20 World Cup, said the IPL - where he will now be coaching Mumbai Indians - was one of the reasons for India's success in world tournaments. India, however, have won just one World Cup - in 2011 - since the IPL began in 2008.
"There's reasons why you've got World Cups in your cabinets," Boucher said, talking about India. "The reason is big stages, guys playing in finals and semi-finals. The more you play those games the better you get. This [SA20] is going to be on the big stage as well. You're going to see youngsters. Guys are going to be put in situations they're not used to and that's going to be exciting to see who comes through. Then once that happens, our coaches and selectors can check and select the guys who are needed for the big moments and the big events."
South Africa's direct qualification for the 2023 ODI World Cup, however, hangs in the balance. They are currently at No. 11 in the Super League with only five matches to go, and need to win at least three to try and finish among the top eight teams that get direct qualification for next year's World Cup.
South Africa have won only five of their 16 Super League matches so far, having forfeited three ODIs in Australia to have all their top players available for the start of the SA20 in January.
Smith said South Africa had brought this situation upon themselves by playing "bad" cricket, and that CSA had no choice but to prioritise the SA20 at that point. CSA's chief executive Pholetsi Moseki had also said previously that the board had taken a risk of withdrawing from the series against Australia with an eye on "securing the long-term sustainability of the game" in South Africa.
"I think South Africa's World Cup qualification was bad because they played bad. I mean, they had a lot of time to control that," Smith said. "I think that this three-ODI cancellation, I actually feel for Cricket South Africa in many ways, because I know the effort that went in to move those three ODIs to open up a window for the league. The league will have a window free of international cricket in South Africa, like the IPL, for a period every year.
"Australia never travel on Boxing Day or New Year's. England are never away from home in their summer. It's incredible that South African cricket still has decided that they'll earn zero revenues this year because they're going to Australia for three Test matches. So, I know that they went out of their way with Cricket Australia to find a way to make those three ODIs work, but it just wasn't practical, and eventually South African cricket had to make a choice … it was going to start its own league and it needed to give it a chance and make a proper statement that it was going to make a success of it."
South Africa have not played a festive series in Australia since 2008, for the reasons Smith mentioned. Former CSA CEO Gerald Majola negotiated in previous FTPs that South Africa would only tour Australia outside of the Christmas-New Year period to maximise revenue at home. This series was decided in the 2019-2023 FTP, which was drafted in the post-Majola era. Cricket South Africa host only one incoming tour this season, against West Indies, but will launch the SA20 this summer.

Sruthi Ravindranath is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo