33 games of the CSA T20 Challenge won’t be broadcast, but will be available online ©Getty


For 32 days in January and February South Africans couldn’t blink without being reminded the SA20 was upon them, which the cricketminded among us had known already. There was no getting away from the second edition of the tournament until after the final. It was as enveloping as the air we breathed.

How many of the same people know another T20 tournament starts in the country on Friday? Those who don’t should be forgiven, because the first division of the men’s CSA T20 Challenge isn’t in the same league as the stupendously successful SA20 in every way.

The foreign stars who graced the SA20 have left. The crackling anticipation has gone too. The names of the Challenge teams don’t shimmer with IPL gold dust, and the tournament’s media and marketing presence is negligible. The mood is measurably more meh. And that’s only at a surface level.

During the SA20 spectators could win a share of the equivalent of USD107,000 for taking a clean, one-handed catch in the crowd at any of the six grounds used. Eight grounds will stage Challenge games but only three of them – the Wanderers, Centurion and Kingsmead – will offer fans prizes for claiming catches, and none are as lucrative as those dangled in the SA20.

All 34 games in the SA20 were broadcast live on television, even though the audience was limited to SuperSport’s pay channels. Less than half of the Challenge matches – 25 of 58 – will have the same exposure. Some of that difference comes down to logistics. None of the SA20 games were played concurrently, while the Challenge will feature up to four matches a day and standalone games on just two days.

That the 33 games that won’t be broadcast will be streamed online is unlikely to stop them from slipping out of sight and mind. Considering data costs are exponentially more in South Africa than in many other countries – on average more than 11 times as much as in India, upwards of five times what Australians pay, and almost three times as much as in the UK – few who do not have access to wifi networks will be able to tune in.

The Challenge suffers from not being able to hide its affiliation to CSA, not least because – like most of South Africa’s domestic competitions – it does not have a title sponsor. The SA20, which is heavily sponsored, is also a CSA product but is not perceived as such. Its franchises are Indian owned and it is run independently of CSA’s other events. That means it enjoys, in the public mind, a level of integrity the Challenge does not.

When South Africans think of the SA20, among the first people they call to mind is Graeme Smith, who in his role as the league’s commissioner has become the embodiment of administrative excellence. When South Africans think of CSA’s other competitions they picture incompetent suits who wouldn’t know a bouncer from a boundary.

How much of that view is fuelled by racism – unlike the SA20, the Challenge is subject to CSA’s transformation targets – and how much by the fact that previous incarnations of CSA’s board and senior officials have indeed proved themselves incompetent suits is difficult to fathom.

But we will know if South Africans hanker after more of what the SA20 gave them, albeit in diluted form, when the gates to the grounds swing open on Friday evening. Who wouldn’t want to watch, in the next 52 days, Aiden Markram, Heinrich Klaasen, Tabraiz Shamsi, Lungi Ngidi, Reeza Hendricks, Nandre Burger, Rassie van der Dussen, Kagiso Rabada, Keshav Maharaj, Tristan Stubbs and Anrich Nortje? Or see if Dewald Brevis can live up to the hype? Or find out whether Kwena Maphaka and Steve Stolk, stars of this year’s under-19 World Cup, can cut it at the senior level?

Should the crowds turn up in anything like the numbers drawn by the SA20, domestic cricket in this country – especially in the most accessible format – will have turned a corner. If they don’t, some of those going to games at the Wanderers, Centurion and Kingsmead won’t be unhappy. Because taking a clean, one-handed catch is easier if the grass bank is sparsely populated. Cynical? Welcome to South African cricket.

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