Kwena Maphaka may not play a game in the second season of the Betway SA20, but his presence in it encapsulates the tournament’s growth as it seeks to build on a successful first instalment.
Maphaka is 17 years old, still in Grade 11, and has played seven senior matches. His selection for the SA A team occurred via a phone call from the Proteas Test coach, Shukri Conrad, while Maphaka was enjoying school break time. In August, when the SA20 opened the window for “wild card” picks, he was signed by the Paarl Royals.
“From a Royals perspective, we just saw a big upturn in what he has potentially and what he could get to. We wanted to get in early and not risk it turning into a big purse at the auction,” says Richard das Neves, who sits on the Royals’ coaching staff.
Wonderful opportunities for young payers
The inaugural season of the SA20 made an enormous impression on the South African sporting landscape. Not only did it help turn around the narrative regarding cricket in the country, from overwhelmingly negative to more optimistic, but it also showcased young talent hidden from the public’s view because of the waning interest in domestic cricket.
Where Jordan Hermann and Gerald Coetzee stepped to the fore last summer, so Maphaka hopes to make an impression in January.
The growth of the SA20 is illustrated in the increase in squad size and, most importantly, the expansion to include at least one rookie contract – for a player under the age of 22 – for each franchise. Besides Maphaka, the most stunning use of that new addition was the Pretoria Capitals’ R1.6-million acquisition of 20-year-old all-rounder Matthew Boast.
“For youngsters to play alongside and against some of the top internationals and the best of South Africa’s cricketers is an incredible opportunity for them,” says the SA20’s commissioner, Graeme Smith.
Big ambitions, high hopes
Smith is steadfast in emphasising the need for what happens onthe field to be the primary goal of the tournament. “We have set big ambitions to be the biggest league outside of India, but we also want to attract the number one sport and entertainment stuff and bring that into the in-stadium experience. Ultimately, the in-stadium fan experience and the way it comes through on broadcast is dependent on the cricket itself. That will always be key to us,” explains Smith.
Amid the excitement generated by the new tournament, the biggest surprise for Smith, his management staff and the team’s owners – all Indian-based conglomerates – was the enthusiasm and speed with which South Africans quickly adopted the new teams.
It must be remembered that the League barely had time to market the event last year after Cricket SA (CSA) – the majority shareholders in the tournament – only signed off on it in April.
Then there was the pessimistic outlook for the sport, the result of years of maladministration along with poor results for the Proteas, following the retirements of some legendary players.
“Last year, there were just negative comments every time we went anywhere because of the failed attempts (at establishing a franchise league) in South African cricket previously,” says Smith, pointing to the failures of the Global League T20 and Mzansi Super League, which left CSA hamstrung both reputationally and financially. Last year’s success has made signing agreements with players and sponsors easier for the 2024 edition. Last year it was obtaining the signature of England white-ball captain Jos Buttler, fast bowler Jofra Archer, and investment from those Indian conglomerates that ensured the SA20’s establishment was accelerated.
“Through this year, we’ve had more time to look at some of the things we never had a chance to do (last year),” explains Smith.
Much of that will be marketing, greater fan engagement and creating a livelier TV product. All those elements are linked to what happens on the field. The SA20 is a strong South African product, which sets it apart from the International League T20 (ILT20) in Dubai, played at the same time and dominated by overseas players – with up to nine allowed per starting team, whereas the SA20 only permits four.
Having that essential bond allows for greater spectator engagement, creating a better atmosphere that allows for an improved television product, something the ILT20 doesn’t have because stadiums are largely empty.
Developing the talent
The new generation of talent, such as Maphaka, Coetzee, Hermann, Dewald Brevis and Tristan Stubbs, will have their development accelerated in the second season.
“What the franchises bring from a coaching, medical and business perspective, all of that expertise can only benefit the game here,” says Smith.
“South African cricket has never had a problem producing talent and it is now about getting that talent up to a high-performing level – that’s the goal of Betway SA20. It’s about bridging the gap between domestic cricket and the international game and producing some new stars, while also helping the national team to start performing well at a consistent level moving forward,” adds Smith.