Is new South African T20 league set for success after Indian investment?

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Chris Gayle batting during the Mzansi Super LeagueWest Indies great Chris Gayle played in South Africa's Mzansi Super League T20 competition in 2018

After three unsuccessful attempts at staging a world-class T20 competition, Cricket South Africa (CSA) is confident its new event will grow to become second in stature only to the Indian Premier League (IPL).

The organisation's hopes have been boosted by the fact that the six new teams that will play in the league were all bought by groups that own franchises in the IPL.

That should open up an avenue into India's economically-lucrative market - although the fortunes of South Africa's international side may be affected by the new tournament, which is scheduled to begin in January next year.

Competing against the IPL and Australia's Big Bash League, CSA chairman Lawson Naidoo believes the mix of experience and clout provided by their new partners has the potential to take South African cricket to new levels.

"We see this as a huge vote of confidence in the league by the quality of the team owners we've been able to attract," Naidoo told BBC Sport Africa.

"They all have a long association with T20 cricket and they understand how to make a success of a league like this.

"It shows it was the right decision that CSA took to create this league and with the right partners, which we believe we have on board, this is going be something that's going to change the face of South African cricket in years to come.

"This is the opportunity for us to create the second-best T20 league in the world. Given the partners we've got, we'll obviously benefit from the experience that they bring from the IPL."

South African cricket has had its fair share of off-field problems in recent years, but CSA said the as-yet-unnamed new tournament attracted bids from 29 entities worldwide before it confirmed the six franchise owners last month.

Reliance Industries, owners of Mumbai Indians, will own a team based at Cape Town's picturesque Newlands Cricket Ground while Chennai Super Kings' owners won the rights to a team that will be based at South Africa's biggest cricket ground, the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg.

The respective owners of Delhi Capitals will have a team in Centurion, Lucknow Super Giants in Durban, Sunrisers Hyderabad in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) and Rajasthan Royals in Paarl, 40km east of Cape Town.

Graeme Smith, the former South Africa captain who has been appointed tournament commissioner, says the new league provides a "truly exciting time" the game in the country.

"The overwhelming interest shows that the country remains valued in the global cricketing ecosystem," he added.

Nurturing talent after previous failures

Graeme SmithGraeme Smith played 117 Tests, 197 ODIs and 33 T20s for South Africa, and is now commissioner of the country's new T20 competition

In 2017, CSA's attempt to launch the Global League T20, which also had IPL owners but no confirmed broadcaster, was aborted before the watered-down Mzansi Super League - effectively handed to the national broadcaster for free in 2018 and 2019 - had a sojourn of only two seasons.

This time there is a solid broadcast deal in place with the innovative South African-based pay channel SuperSport, who have secured a 30% share of the tournament as well as television rights.

CSA, with 57.5%, is the majority shareholder of the new controlling entity known as Africa Cricket Development (ACD). The other partners include former IPL founding COO Sundar Raman as well as the six new franchise owners.

Smith, who did not reapply for his CSA director of cricket post when his two-year contract expired in March, was at loggerheads with the governing body after facing allegations of racism stemming from the Social Justice and Nation-building (SJN) hearings.

The former Proteas captain was cleared on all three counts a month later by an independent arbitration panel.

Credited with persuading India to proceed with their tour of South Africa last December and January amid concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic, the 41-year-old has been appointed because of his global standing in the cricketing world.

"I'm deeply committed to South African cricket and happy to serve the game as best I can," Smith said.

Smith believes the T20 league will be "an extremely competitive product" that will bring much-needed investment and provide new opportunities for home-grown talent and foreign players.

Meanwhile, Naidoo says the new franchise owners have all contractually committed to running development programmes in South Africa for local players.

World Cup place for Proteas at risk

South Africa play one-day international against AustraliaSouth Africa are outside the automatic qualification places for the 2023 Cricket World Cup

Such is the premium that CSA have put on making their new venture a success that they have risked their national men's team's participation at next year's 50-over World Cup in India.

Struggling in 11th position in the Super League, the Proteas withdrew from the three One-Day Internationals (ODIs) scheduled against Australia 12 and 17 January next year - forfeiting all 30 points on offer.

This was done to ensure that all local players are available for the new league.

That series was originally scheduled to take place in 2020 but the pandemic saw it reorganised to follow the three-Test series which is scheduled to end in Sydney on 8 January 2023.

"We put forward various options to reschedule those games, essentially bringing them forward so that we could leave Australia immediately after the Sydney Test," Naidoo said.

"That didn't work out because it wasn't suitable for Australia.

"We faced the choice of continuing with those ODIs or starting the new T20 league without our leading players. It's important to have all of our best players available for the tournament to ensure it starts on a strong footing.

"It's obviously not an ideal situation and it's a tough decision we had to make. We discussed it and the position we've taken is that this in the long-term interest of SA cricket.

"We need to build a strong domestic league in order to be able to create new revenue streams to ensure financial sustainability."

South Africa faces the real prospect of missing out on automatic qualification for the World Cup that is reserved for the top seven in the Super League table plus hosts India.

Should they finish outside the top eight, the Proteas will have to book their ticket to the tournament via a top-two finish in next year's qualifiers that could include the West Indies, Sri Lanka as well as Ireland, the Netherlands and hosts Zimbabwe.

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