May 21, 2020
Firdose MoondaSouth Africa correspondent, ESPNcricinfo
Cricket South Africa is preparing for four different scenarios ahead of the 2020-21 summer with the most likely being a reduced domestic season, with matches expected to be played behind closed doors. The Mzansi Super League (MSL) remains a priority but CSA is reluctant to play the tournament behind closed doors, which could see it pushed out as far as March next year, in order to be played with an audience. Either way, South African cricketers can expect some part of their summer to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic, with the country planning for a peak infection rate in September, which is when the season typically gets underway.
“The unlikeliest scenario is that the season will start as normal,” Jacques Faul, the board’s acting CEO said. “The second one is that we only have half a season. As the scenarios unfold and we get more clarity. One of the likely scenarios we are planning for is half a season, so January onwards, and hopefully the MSL at the start.”
The other two scenarios consider various amounts of cricket being played, including internationals, as well as other aspects of CSA’s financial position, such as sponsors.
The third edition of the MSL is scheduled for November and December with the final taking place on December 16, the date that marks the start of South Africa’s holiday season. Although the tournament has made losses over the past two years, because of unsold television rights, CSA is hoping things would fare better this time around. The board is in the process of securing a broadcaster and is also planning on expanding the tournament from six teams to eight.
While gate-takings from the MSL are not a major revenue earner, it is still South Africa’s best-attended domestic competition, intended to promote family viewing. Faul is hoping that it can stay that way.
“I’m not sure it would make sense behind closed doors,” he said. “It could be a restricted audience and the capacity will be lower so that we can guarantee social distancing but it will need to be government approved and we would need to look at the cost factor of it and the risks. And that would only be around November or December. I can’t see it happening earlier, but the MSL would have been scheduled for that period anyway.”
The other option would be to play the MSL in March-April, with the Easter holiday period in mind.
Meanwhile, the franchise four-day first-class competition and one-day cup as well as the provincial three-day first-class fixtures and fifty-over tournament and other age-group and club tournaments are more than likely to be affected by delayed starts. While CSA is hopeful of as much professional cricket as possible, it is “planning for half a season of amateur and recreational cricket,” Faul said.
There is currently no indication of when sport will resume in South Africa, which remains under a strict lockdown that prohibits any group activity. CSA and several other sporting bodies are seeking an audience with the sports minister to clarify the steps required in order to return to play.
The South African Cricketers’ Association, on the other hand, is working to ensure the mental and financial well-being of their athletes given the fact that all of them are facing a truncated season.
“We have an existential crisis in cricket so it is important that we all work together,” Andrew Breetzke, SACA CEO said. “It is a period when players would normally go into an off-season, so that has helped us, because it hasn’t been such a mind shift change but there have been a number of players affected by the English season which has in effect been postponed indefinitely.”
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Breetzke explained that it is not just the top players whose county contracts have been canceled (such as Keshav Maharaj and Vernon Philander) but senior provincial players whose club deals were called off, resulting in them losing amounts of around R100,000 (US$5,600 approx) each. Others, who would have had coaching jobs in academies and schools in the winter, have also lost out.
SACA is actively encouraging players to focus on “dual career” growth and make use of the organisation’s scholarship programme to begin further study. It is also providing psychological support to players, through a referral program, the costs of which are covered through the SACA medical scheme.
That said, director of cricket Graeme Smith remains hopeful cricket will resume soon and is working with players to ensure their readiness. Over the last seven weeks, players were provided with home training programs to maintain fitness over the lockdown and this week, they will begin online coaching sessions. “We are keen to play as quickly as possible. We believe we are a socially distant sport,” Smith said. “From our perspective, we are trying to ensure players are as ready as possible.”
At the same time, CSA has put several other pressing matters on hold. The positions of a selection convener, A team, under-19 team, and national women’s team coach were all advertised last month but none of them have been filled. “It’s not a process we are rushing. We are trying to assess the landscape,” Smith said.
South Africa are also due to appoint a Test captain in the coming months but with no matches expected for a while, that is another issue they can take some time on.
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