Dolphins win Division One title; Knights first to be relegated in restructured system
Knights' relegation leaves no team from the central region of the country in the top division
The Durban-based Dolphins have won the Division One title in South Africa's first-class competition bringing the curtain down on the 2022-23 domestic season.
Dolphins also competed in the final of the T20 competition, which they lost to Titans, but finished last in the one-day cup, which was won by Lions. All three teams will remain in Division One next season, alongside Western Province, Boland, North-West and Warriors, with Bloemfontein's Knights the first team to be relegated in the restructured system. Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN) Inland have moved up to Division One for the 2023-24 summer.
The promotion-relegation system came into effect when the two-tier franchise and provincial structure was scrapped at the end the 2020-21 season. They moved to a 15-team entirely provincial set-up (though some provinces retained the names of the franchises they were part of), separated into two divisions, and allowed two seasons of settling-in time before the annual one-up-one-down comes into play.
That means results for the first round of the promotion/relegation calculations were made on two seasons worth of competitions, in each format, for a total of six tournaments. From the 2023-24 summer, it will be one season's worth - three tournaments - that will determine who stays in Division One and who moves down.
In the 2021-22 and 2022-23 summers, Knights finished sixth out of eight in the first-class competition, sixth in the one-day tournament, and seventh and fourth respectively in the T20s. Although they were never placed last, the combined final placings meants they were the worst-performing Division One team over two seasons.
Their relegation left no team from the central region of the country in Division One. The central region covers the Free State province, and has produced players including Allan Donald, Hansie Cronje, and more recently Dean Elgar and Gerald Coetzee, and is home to several elite sporting schools including Grey College. With Bloemfontein also excluded from the SA20, the isolation of the province from the country's cricketing consciousness is growing and CSA is concerned about the development.
"This is one of the issues that was unenvisaged when the system started. If someone had shown you the teams then, you would not have thought the Knights would be the ones to be relegated," Eddie Khoza, CSA's head of pathways, told ESPNcricinfo. "It is important for each member to take responsibility and show accountability for their systems. The franchise system provided comfort and we couldn't see the gaps that were there. Now, we will need to take a deep dive into what is happening with some of our members and see what we can do to support them."
On the other hand, CSA is delighted with the progress of KZN Inland, who were only reinstated as an affiliate team last November, after several years under administration. In the 2021-22 season, they were third in the four-day competition, and won the one-day cup; this summer they were second in the four-day series and reached the final of the one-day cup. Division Two teams do not play a standalone T20 tournament. Their promotion meant they would be entitled to contract 16 players instead of the 11 at Division Two level, and are eligible to contract players for more money.
Knights will suffer the opposite fate and are expected to lose their big names, including Coetzee, who is moving to Titans. The player-contracting window opens today and will close at the end of March.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket