Enticing sugar rush of South Africa’s T20 competition could prove costly

Are you ready for another franchise competition? Would you like a side of double bacon cheeseburger with extra bacon to go along with your extra large stuffed crust pizza? Can you handle more saturated fat in the form of sponsored sixes, sorry, “maximums”, thwacked into orbit by the same players you watch throughout the year representing teams owned by the Indian Premier League?

How is this different? Shut up, nerd. There’s a reverse paddle sweep from Jos Buttler. There’s a Kagiso Rabada back of the hand, slower-ball bouncer. And over there are flame-belching machines and strobing coloured lights and a stadium announcer compelling the show forward, dragging you to a climax you’ve only just realised you need to feel in your bloodstream.

Ready or not, the SA20 is joining the party in January. On Monday, the six city-based teams named after their IPL overlords bid for the hottest South African talent as well as a handful of international freelancers. The 22-year-old Tristan Stubbs was the biggest winner after the Sunrisers Eastern Cape (affiliated with the Sunrisers in Hyderabad) splurged £453,550 for the big-hitting off-spinner.

The lanky left-arm seamer Marco Jansen went to the same team for £300,000 while Somerset’s dasher Rilee Rossouw will collect £340,000 from the multinational conglomerate that owns the Pretoria Capitals and the Delhi Capitals. Not a bad haul for a month’s work.

Each team had a budget of £1.75m to spend on players. More than that will worm its way to major shareholders of the debt-ridden Cricket South Africa. After finding itself on the outside of the big three of India, Australia and England, South African cricket has had to forge a new path to stay alive. But at what cost?

Temba Bavuma, the team’s white-ball captain who will lead his country in October’s T20 World Cup, remained unsold. The same was true for Andile Phehlukwayo, the all-rounder who is part of the Proteas’ wider World Cup squad. The free market has spoken and sober readings of their respective strike-rates and averages would suggest they were rightly omitted, but the optics are a concern.

One prominent South African coach said it was alarming that such a scenario could play out where the leader of the national team could be “cast aside in such an embarrassing manner”. Like all CSA-contracted players, Bavuma’s suggested price started at R850,000 (about £41,900) and he declined the option to reduce that by almost 80%. Had he done so he might have been bought.

That South Africa’s only black batter with a Test ton to his name was left on the cutting-room floor shows where the team owners’ priorities lie. They’re not here for the betterment of South African cricket. They’re not mandated to build a pipeline or advance development hubs in the rural Eastern Cape or in Soweto. They’re here to expand their empires. That other stuff is in someone else’s out tray.

This month, CSA’s director of cricket, Enoch Nkwe, said the economic windfalls will trickle down and reach those in need at the grassroots. “If there are opportunities to strengthen the top, there are areas we could look at. But, first and foremost, the biggest investment is going to be in our development. Because we know the calibre of cricketers our system produces for the Proteas.”

Can he guarantee this will happen? In a country that is the most unequal in the world, according to the World Bank, where you’re in the top 1% if you earn £2,500 a month, it’s easy to sympathise with our CSA insider who said: “I don’t see it happening. Those at the top will eat everything. The rest will eat on the scraps that fall.”

That cynical view is not universally shared. Graeme Smith, SA20’s commissioner, is adamant the competition will have a positive impact on South African cricket, much like the IPL has strengthened India’s team. But even then there are no guarantees of success.

Since the launch of the IPL, in 2008, India has won one World Cup from nine attempts (three in the 50-over format, six T20s). With the best players from around the world competing in almost every tournament there is, it is difficult to pull away from the pack. The SA20 could improve Buttler’s batting just as much as it could improve Rabada’s bowling.

What this competition will unquestionably achieve is allow CSA to gain a toehold on the global scene. The Test side was without a shirt sponsor for last month’s series against England. The Future Tours Programme has restricted them to 28 Tests over the next four years. Public hearings exposed festering racism at all levels of the game. Public trust, much like profits to spend, has eroded. Mark Boucher surprised his employers with a sudden resignation and will step down as coach after the World Cup in Australia.

Research has shown that foods low in nutrients but high in calories fail to satiate your hunger. This causes an insulin spike that reduces glucose levels and can cause you to want to eat more. It’s fattening, but it’s cheap, proving an enticing option for struggling families desperate to put food on the table. They’re not to blame. It’s an unequal world that’s at fault. South African cricket is doing what it needs to survive.