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Timeless veterans take fans back to good old South Africa

Despite initial sparse crowds and chaotic changes at CSA, the MSL had its high points.

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Dale Steyn fields off his own bowling, Durban Heat vs Cape Town Blitz, MSL 2019-20, Durban, November 17, 2019

Dale Steyn fields off his own bowling  •  Mzansi Super League

Five weeks ago, when the second edition of the Mzansi Super League (MSL), was about to kick off, ESPNcricinfo gave you five reasons to watch the tournament.
Five weeks later, the 32-match competition has come to a close against the backdrop of chaotic and complicated changes at Cricket South Africa (CSA) that have overshadowed a keenly-contested cup.
While weather played its part with nine matches rained off, matters were tense until the very end. Paarl Rocks secured the home final on the penultimate day of pool matches, and three other teams were in the running until the final playoff game. With a new champion crowned at Boland Park, let's take a look at whether our pre-tournament predictions were accurate.
Slow start, but sell-out final
Domestic cricket on free-to-air television is a rarity in South Africa and at first, it seemed fans were happy to stay home and get their fix on the small screen. Or not at all.
The first two weeks of the tournament took place at the same time as the South Africa rugby team's week-long, country-wide victory tour following their successful World Cup campaign. There was also the matter of end-of-year school and university examinations, which saw crowds in the few hundreds at some venues.
The Wanderers Stadium, home to the defending champion Jozi Stars, had particularly disappointing numbers, which may also have been linked to the poor form of their team.
But, as the celebrations from the rugby and the academic year ended, the supporters started turning up. The Port Elizabeth band cheered the Nelson Mandela Bay Giants through their journey, largely spent at the top of the table, and into the playoffs but it was the Paarl Rocks' faithful who brought the best vibe.
Each game brought a bigger crowd, from 5500 to 6000 and eventually a sell-out 7500 for the final. That may not sound huge, but at a small ground, it was enough. The success of the Paarl crowd also demonstrated how a tournament of this nature could be successful in the future: take the cricket to less-loved venues and the people will come.
It was like watching South Africa in the good old days
The big names rolled back the years with Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel plucking wickets at will and AB de Villiers among the top run-scorers. While Morkel and de Villiers' form has no bearing on the national side, Steyn's performances bode well for his inclusion in next year's T20 World Cup squad.
The Kolpaks did not play as much of a role as was expected apart from David Wiese, who came into the Tshwane Spartans squad for the playoff and won the game for them with an all-round excellent performance.
However, the self-proclaimed best offspinner in the world, Simon Harmer, took just four wickets in five matches and Kyle Abbott took five in six matches. Dane Vilas led the Durban Heat well and played some fine innings and Heino Kuhn looked threatening on occasions, but the most noteworthy Kolpak was Hardus Viljoen. And it was not for anything he did on the field.
Viljoen married Faf du Plessis' sister on the eve of the final pool match and had to miss the game, which provided one of the most memorable pre-match team news interviews.
The Giants' attack
The Blitz and Spartans had the names but it was the Giants' attack that proved to be the most balanced. Led by the ageless Imran Tahir, who will also end 2019 as the highest wicket-taker in T20 cricket, the Giants had the ability to attack upfront, in the middle and at the death of their innings.
Chris Morris was effective at the beginning and end of innings and Junior Dala enhanced his reputation as a death-bowling specialist.
The three of them are all among the top seven wicket-takers of the tournament. When Dala was injured, Mthiwekhaya Nabe stepped up, while Akhona Mnyaka and Onke Nyaku also established themselves as ones to watch in future.
Faf's still got it
With South Africa's white-ball captaincy yet to be confirmed, the MSL was an opportunity for Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock to audition for the role and on the evidence of the results, neither are ready to take over.
Bavuma's Jozi Stars finished bottom of the pile, lost seven matches and got their only points through washouts. Their team selection was questionable and they were consistently a batsman short, which put extra pressure on Bavuma to lead with the bat. He was his team's second-highest run-scorer, but it wasn't enough.
Similarly, de Kock was the second-highest run-scorer for the Blitz but their over-reliance on their opening pair meant he always had too much to do. Though de Kock was energetic and involved in on-field strategies, he was not able to mastermind close wins and the Blitz finished in fifth place.
At the other end of the points table, Faf du Plessis' Paarl Rocks topped the table, perhaps sending a message to South Africa's selectors not to try and fix what isn't broken. Du Plessis led a team without many big names and one that was dogged by injury, using effective bowling changes and clever field-placings.
And then there are those English (and other internationals)
Alex Hales' unbeaten 97 for the Durban Heat against the Paarl Rocks was not enough to get him into England's T20 squad for the upcoming tour and neither was James Vince's ninth-placed finish on the run-charts. However, Moeen Ali, Jason Roy and Tom Curran will all play against South Africa later this summer.
The best performing international player wasn't English, though, with Ben Dunk taking the honours after leading the run-scorers' list with 415 runs in 11 matches at an average of 51.87 for the Nelson Mandela Bay Giants. Wahab Riaz was the next most impactful international, with nine wickets in seven matches for the Blitz, at 19.22, to finish ninth on the wicket-takers' list. Roelof van der Merwe came in 10th.
As for the rest of the foreigners, Chris Gayle underwhelmed, except for his explosive parting press conference in which he asked not be blamed for the Stars' - or any other team's - failings.
Dan Christian, Asif Ali, Ravi Bopara, Mohammed Nawaz, and Ryan ten Doeschate all barely made an impact, while South African audiences got a first look at Afghan legspinner Waqar Salamkheil.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent