The good, bad and ugly of the Mzansi Super League
The inaugural edition threw up some stellar performances, but also raises questions about scheduling and pulling crowds
The Mzansi Super League came and, like most short-format tournaments, left quickly but left watchers with some serious food for thought. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of the inaugural edition.
The Good: Local players came to the party plus good TV value
The Mzansi Super League was their party and boy did the local players make it count. They dominated the run-scoring charts and the wicket-taking columns, with special mentions for Rassie van der Dussen (469 runs), Quinton de Kock and Reeza Hendricks (412 runs), while Gihahn Cloete (330 runs) will give selectors a fair bit to think about when the T20 World Cup comes to mind.
More importantly, these are young players who can and could contribute to the success of the Proteas and the tournament itself in future. We’ve seen how Indian players have come on in leaps and bounds since the Indian Premier League firmly established itself as the prime T20 league in the world. Finances mean the MSL may not reach those heights, but SA’s varied pitch conditions allow for different skills and player development in a way the IPL can’t.
Money talks and at some point these players could be prized batting efforts if they continue their form.
The bowlers also stood out and it was a pity the likes of Anrich Nortje were injured. Lutho Sipamla burnished his reputation while Duanne Olivier moved the selectors into white-ball thoughts ahead of his proven red-ball credentials. The next T20 World Cup is in 2020 and those who performed this year may have the extra springboard to ask the appropriate questions in 2019.
Also, the groundsmen belong in this category. The pitches played to type in the various cities even though the SuperSport Park surface is increasingly under serious scrutiny for its unnaturally slow nature ahead of the Boxing Day Test against Pakistan.
From a TV perspective, the game averaged in excess of 250,000 viewers, which is a steal on free-to-air TV in SA.
The Bad: The crowds and the scheduling
Ideally, you’d want a T20 tournament to be held during school holidays when parents have time to be with their children at the stadiums. There isn’t a set rule that limited-overs tournaments have to end on December 16 because of the holiday, but it puts pressure on those who need to be ready for Boxing Day Test cricket since the turnover period is only 10 days.
There’s also a need to fit in a four-day fixture to get players ready, but what’s also missed in the reams of copy is that SA’s cricket market doesn’t quite allow for concurrent tournaments to be run like the Big Bash League in Australia in conjunction with its prime Test dates of December 26 and January 2.
However, the Boxing Day tinkering needs to be stopped and preserved for big crowd pullers and money spinners such as England and India, while the rest could settle with a New Year’s start from a Test match perspective.
Let’s be honest, the Boxing Day Test isn’t and won’t be the kind of big deal here as it is in Australia. Maybe the stretching of the tournament well into December with the New Year’s Test in mind could be the best option. It’ll collide with the BBL, but who cares? You have to look after yourself first.
Oh and by the way, the start times need to return to what SA fans are used to because 7pm starts for evening games aren’t family friendly. The same applies to Sunday-afternoon starts since 2.30pm ensures that people are home by 6.15pm at the latest, while double headers should be on Saturday and not Sunday. This had an impact on the crowds, who, at best, bordered on average but showed there was interest in the tournament.
The Ugly: Foreign players disappointed alongside the Durban Heat
The success of tournaments like the MSL hinges on the delivering of goods by the foreign legion. Yes, there are competing tournaments like the T10 that robbed teams of extended services from players like Eoin Morgan (Tshwane Spartans), Chris Gayle (Jozi Stars), Dawid Malan (Cape Town Blitz) and Rashid Khan (Durban Heat). In the end, their impact was minimal and, in the context of being crowd pullers, that was criminal.
Jeevan Mendis (Spartan) and to an extent Asif Ali (Cape Town Blitz) and Ben Duckett (Nelson Mandela Bay Giants proved their worth for their teams but they’re not crowd pullers).
The organisers need to have drafts earlier to ensure they can snap up players early and make sure they’re available for the duration of the tournament. They need to up their game should they return in 2019.
The Durban Heat also get a special mention for their lop-sided participation. They flickered with their assembling of a very good squad but that was pretty much it; a flicker from embers that quickly smouldered.