After more than 18 months of to-ing and fro-ing, CSA is less than a month away from hosting its own city-based T20 cricket tournament: the Mzansi Super League. It has been a lengthy and complicated process, but with a complete revamping of formatting and commercial partnerships CSA has settled on a homegrown structure typified by its exclusive broadcast partnership with South Africa's public broadcaster, SABC. The packed T20 league calendar is about to get a brand new addition.
Mzansi Super League? What's with the name?
"Mzansi" is an isiXhosa word that translates literally to "south", but in colloquial slang usage refers to the country of South Africa, denoting something uniquely hip and homegrown. The local spin on the league has been central to CSA's re-strategising after the failed first launch last year, but that hasn't extended to the teams, who have all been given more generic names: Jozi Stars, Tshwane Spartans, Durban Heat, Cape Town Blitz, Paarl Rocks and Nelson Mandela Bay Giants.
Durban, Cape Town, Tshwane … are these all city-based teams?
Yes, moving away from the old provincial franchise model, CSA has settled on host cities and grounds for all of the teams. Jozi Stars will be based at Wanderers (Jozi is another South Africanism, a shortened form of Johannesburg), Cape Town Blitz at Newlands, Tshwane Spartans at SuperSport Park in Centurion, Durban Heat at Kingsmead, Paarl Rocks at Boland Park and Nelson Mandela Bay Giants at St George's Park in Port Elizabeth.
So we have a league, home grounds and teams: when will the tournament finally begin?
The first game of the MSL will be played on November 16, between Cape Town Blitz and Tshwane Spartans, and the final exactly a month later on December 16. There will be 32 games in all, with each team playing the others home and away.
Wait, it starts on November 16… Aren't the Proteas still going to be in Australia at that time?
Yes they are: South Africa's limited-overs tour of Australia ends with a one-off T20I on November 17, so they won't be around for the opening weekend. But each team has been assigned a marquee Protea (or, in one case, ex-Protea) player pre-tournament and all of the nationally contracted players will be available once the team gets back from Australia. AB de Villiers will play for Tshwane Spartans, Imran Tahir for Nelson Mandela Bay Giants, Quinton de Kock for Cape Town Blitz, Hashim Amla for Durban Heat, Faf du Plessis for Paarl Rocks and Kagiso Rabada for Jozi Stars.
Who else is involved? Can we expect the usual T20 franchise suspects?
A lot of them, yes, though there are no players from New Zealand, India or Bangladesh at the MSL. But Chris Gayle and Dan Christian have signed on for Jozi Stars, Rashid Khan for Durban Heat, Dwayne Bravo for Paarl Rocks and Eoin Morgan for Tshwane Spartans. In all, 342 players applied to be part of the draft, vying for 96 spots. There was no IPL-style bidding on players - they all had reserve prices and the franchise heads had all been given a limited budget they had to work within: R325,000 (approx. USD22,500) each. The final draft was completed earlier this week.
A month of Chris Gayle thrashing bowlers around South Africa and Rashid Khan dissecting batting line-ups? That sounds like fun!
It does, but not so fast: virtually all of the MSL's international marquee players are going to miss a big chunk of the tournament because they've also signed on to play in the Abu Dhabi T10 League. Morgan, Gayle, Bravo, Rashid, Jason Roy and Asif Ali are all playing in Abu Dhabi, and there have even been reports that the T10 League attempted to block CSA's recruitment of some players. The T10 League runs from November 23 to December 2, so there's a chance that all of the players mentioned above will only be around for the opening weekend, and then the last two weeks of the MSL.
And who will fill in while they're away?
South African national and provincial players, mainly. Several teams also made their draft picks with availability in mind and ensured they had like-for-like players to fill the gaps in the teamsheet when the big stars are away. For example, Durban Heat knew they were going to lose Rashid for much of the tournament, so they also enlisted Brandon Mavuta, the young Zimbabwe legspinner who can give it a bash down the order. But more than three quarters of the players involved in the draft were South African, and that has been reflected in the squads.
Okay. So where can we watch the MSL?
If you can't make it to a stadium, the games will all be televised on SABC thanks to CSA's exclusive broadcast deal with them. If you are outside South Africa, SABC is also included in the DStv bouquet that covers Sub-Saharan Africa (DStv is a direct broadcast satellite service that includes hundreds of channels). CSA have also announced Global Sports Commerce (GSC) as their international commercial and broadcast partner. GSC have various partnerships with global and Indian brands and will work with CSA as its exclusive international commercial partner across television, digital and event sponsorship as CSA seeks to monetise TV rights and branding - so you should be able to watch the MSL on telly overseas.
How is this different from all the other T20 leagues out there?
Put simply, it's not. But it does mark a major milestone in the development of cricket in South Africa. They are latecomers to the T20 league party, but they seem to be pulling this off at the second attempt and that means that cricket will reach a broad South African audience in a way it never quite has before. SABC claims daily viewership figures of 28 million on their TV channels, as well as a 72% stake in the radio airwaves in South Africa, and the MSL could break new ground in terms of the South African cricket-watching public. Twenty years ago, the audience for cricket was largely middle class and almost exclusively white. Plenty has changed since then, but if the MSL can survive and prosper, the future looks even more inclusive and diverse.