CSA heads for showdown over professionals' pay

One of the ironic consequences of the administrative mess at Cricket South Africa (CSA) is that it is currently more transparent than ever. In other words, it is leaking like a sieve.

The least well-kept secret is the CSA board’s decision to do away with the franchise system for domestic cricket next season and revert to the original 11 provinces, with the addition of KwaZulu-Natal Inland to make a round dozen.

It is a move that it believes could be the making of South African cricket.
In reality, it is more likely to be the breaking of it.

The optimists point to more opportunities for players, a greater incentive to make cricket a career and the regeneration of the sport in areas such as the Boland, Border and Griqualand West, which have become marginalised by the franchise system.

Pessimists present a double-headed argument. On the field, the quality of cricket will become too diluted too quickly, playing standards will fall and, ultimately, the national team will suffer because future Proteas will have encountered nothing but “soft” cricket on their rise through the ranks. Off the field, they say, cities such as Kimberley and East London lack the infrastructure and services (flights, for example) to cope. It is an argument that makes the blood of locals boil.

Just as important, however, is whether the sudden doubling of the number of professional cricketers in the country is financially sustainable.

The South African Cricketers’ Association (Saca) has campaigned tirelessly for a decade to ensure that its members earn enough to dedicate themselves to the job full-time, without having to worry about part-time, winter work or playing club cricket in England to make ends meet.

Consequently, South Africa’s domestic professionals are now the third-best paid in the world, behind those in the United Kingdom and Australia. There would be understandable resistance should salaries and other benefits be diluted along with the player pool.

“In principle, we are in favour of more playing opportunities,” said Saca chief executive Tony Irish. “But if any expansion is done poorly or without the necessary research and planning, it might ultimately result in even less playing opportunities than we have now, or even the total collapse of professional cricket.”

In the current payment model for franchise players, they get a 19.7% cut of CSA’s annual turnover. The more successful the governing body is, the better off the players. And vice versa.

“We cannot be in a situation where current players go backwards financially in order to accommodate an increase in numbers. We cannot and will not sanction any changes which may result in that scenario,” Irish said.

“And we are not even prepared to consider sanctioning such changes until a full and detailed feasibility study has been completed into every aspect of the proposed changes.”

Although he did not say so directly, Irish appeared to indicate that Saca would step in and conduct or commission such a survey itself if CSA did not.

“We will do whatever we have to to make certain that a report with feasibility detail is concluded before we agree to any radical changes to the first-class structure,” Irish said.

Saca’s president, Boeta Dippenaar, speaking in his personal capacity just a week before retirement, is adamant that the franchise system should remain but be expanded to a maximum of eight.

“I have no doubt that some players are missing out and they deserve to be given a chance to play top-level cricket but there is absolutely no way, in my personal opinion, that we have enough quality players to justify or sustain 11 or 12 provinces. But how do we get to eight? There is no way Griquas will stand by and support North West getting a franchise and there is no way Border will accept Boland being ‘promoted’ if they are not. We’re going to have to get turkeys to vote for Christmas,” Dippenaar said.

Meanwhile, that rarest of things—a sponsor—has been widely tipped to become involved in South Africa’s domestic T20 tournament.

Not as the title sponsor, sadly, but as the sponsor of the competition’s recently conceived seventh team.

Unperturbed by the intense embarrassment of the tournament being the first in any country unable to attract an investor, the Sahara Group has chosen, bizarrely, to throw some cash behind a composite team comprising promising youngsters and those who are on the fringes of the six franchises but are unable to crack the squad of 15.

Apparently, it will be called something like the “Sahara Rebels”.

From the earliest moments of its conception, the seventh team was always going to be “homeless” and would provide the “big six” with a few more home games. However, with the arrival of Sahara, it has learned that the “Rebels” are to be based at Willowmore Park in Benoni.

The cricketing land is rich and fertile for the entrepreneur. In fact, if you cannot cut a deal of some sort in the current climate you have no chance in the world of business.

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