• Diluting the talent?

    Has South Africa really got enough quality players to fill 12 franchises at the highest domestic level?

    There is already a view we don’t have enough to fill the six we have, and that standards are declining.

    This is the question that CSA needs to consider following a suggestion that the domestic four-day competition could be expanded to 12 teams. That, they feel, would expose more players to a higher level of cricket and attract fans within ‘traditional’ sporting boundaries.

    In a curiously vague article at the weekend, the CEO of Cricket South Africa, Haroon Lorgat, said that ‘sweeping changes in playing structure were now a priority’. It was suggested that a new four-day competition would include more affiliates.

    But, surely, that carries a serious danger of diluting the talent base? Many observers have already expressed a concern that the standard of the four-day Sunfoil series, which at present consists of six provincial franchises, is declining.

    Not enough quality players are coming from the 13 SA teams in the three-day competition, which also carries first-class status. The highest level should not be a development area: it should have the cream of the crop, preparing for higher honours.

    It has been widely acknowledged that the step up from franchise level to national level is too great a leap for many players, and there have been calls for more A-team tours to bridge the gap. They need it, but even the A team has not been the powerhouse it should be.

    So if South Africa is now struggling to field 66 truly first-class players, who could legitimately aim for national honours, what would the landscape look like with 132 players in the field?

    It is worth considering that the England system has 18 teams, and loud and long are the calls to reduce them, because they just do not have enough quality players to fill them. And they have 53-million people packed into an area about the size of the Free State.

    In an enlarged system, the CSA bosses would need to ensure that there was a distribution of top talent, otherwise there would be some very strong teams against some very weak teams.

    But distributing the talent could mean a few strong players carrying a lot of mediocre teammates. CSA may then have to create a superleague, to concentrate the best of the best in strength v strength competition, which really is squaring the circle.

    There would be a huge financial burden too, considering that the six franchises struggle to make money in a country which has all but given up on the domestic first-class game.

    It is a pity that we hear so little of the CSA’s various committees, set up with great fanfare to examine standards in the game. One was abandoned without ever sitting because of poor planning. Another, consisting of numerous ‘stakeholders’ works on (we presume) unnoticed.

    It would be good to hear some concrete proposals, suggestions and ideas to increase the flow of players from schools – and not just private and former Model C schools –  throughout the country. That is the real bedrock of the future.