Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Fans coming back to cricket in a positive light was excellent, says Graeme Smith on SA20 inaugural season

Graeme Smith, the SA20 League Commissioner, recalled the impact the inaugural edition of the tournament had in the country earlier this year, pointing out that fans coming back to watch the sport was an excellent sight to witness.

SA20 began this year in January-February and its second season is set to be held from January 10-February 10, 2024, with Sunrisers Eastern Cape set to begin their title defence by facing off against Joburg Super Kings in Gqeberha in the tournament opener.

“Looking back, we were obviously over the moon about how season one went off. We had a short space of time to build the product. We were really excited that we were able to get the type of partners we did get from a broadcast perspective. But most importantly, the IPL six franchises that grew into South Africa – that was fantastic.”

“I think the cricket was great; then also to revive the spirit of South African cricket, again, was huge in season one. To see the fans coming back to the cricket in a positive light was excellent to see, as well as some of the youngsters performing well. For Season 2, that is something we’re excited about as well.”

“We are building for Season 2 and we’ve been able to attract high-quality international players again. Then our local talents, hopefully, will just get better and better every year. So we are looking forward to Season 2 and achieving all the same goals,” said Smith, the former South Africa skipper, in a conversation with IANS.

In September, the SA20 was done in terms of the six participating teams finalising their respective squads. An interesting feature has been the introduction of a rookie player in all six squads. The draft for this had been done at the end of the auction and every team now has at least one rookie player, who has the chance to rub shoulders with the best in the business.

“We’ve created the platform for the teams – when I look at the squads, there’s some great teams there already. So we expect the cricket to be of a high standard, which I guess is the core part of the success of a tournament. We have introduced the rookie player system, and that has some nice youngsters added to the squads.”

“We will look at one or two of the rule changes to see how we can make it even better. For us, there’s been a big focus on the kind of broadcast and fan experience in-stadia. That for us, it’s something that’s huge. The feedback we receive is that people love in-stadia experiences, and then travelling the world and in India, getting feedback from people on how much they enjoyed watching it. It’s just about executing that very well, again,” added Smith on keys to success for SA20 season two.

With 50 days to go for the SA20 Season 2, the tournament announced that the picturesque Newlands Cricket Ground in Cape Town will host the final on February 10. The stadium will also play host to the first Qualifier on 6 February. The Wanderers will host the two back-to-back knockout matches – the Eliminator on February 7 and Qualifier 2 on February 8.

The playoffs are a new addition to SA20 season two, with the top two teams contesting Qualifier 1, number three and four teams will play in the Eliminator and the loser of Qualifier 1 and the winner of the Eliminator will play the Qualifier 2. This will set up a championship clash between the winner of Qualifier 1 and the winner of Qualifier 2 in the Final on February 10.

Smith said there has been no word on going beyond six teams for SA20 currently. “It will be six teams for the first five years, definitely. We’ve got a nice window and the one extra knockout game this year, with the eliminators and qualifiers coming in. So, 34 games, and we’ve got a nice window, just after India finishes the series in South Africa. So, for us for the next couple of years, that’s the way it will be.”

In the last few years, there has been a rise in women’s franchise cricket, especially with the introduction of the five-team Women’s Premier League (WPL) this year in Mumbai. Asked about the plan for a women’s version of SA20, Smith sounded optimistic about introducing the same.

“Absolutely, we’ve debated it with Cricket South Africa. I mean, we actually running a women’s camp and lined out our top coaches. Where cricket is from a woman’s perspective in South Africa, it’s still right in its infancy. Cricket South Africa has decided to make a big investment now to grow the talent pool, and to build the domestic cricket pool.”

“Over the next few years, it will be to support that and to go from strength to strength. When the time is right, we will certainly introduce a women’s league. It might start like IPL, slightly smaller, then grow. You know, I guess WPL is now is really one of the most dominant periods in the game and we need to also see how we can attract talent and match up.”

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