• MSL on a sticky wicket

    Former Proteas spinner PAT SYMCOX says the Mzansi Super League has potential, but the partnership between CSA and the SABC is on shaky ground.

    There has been some decent cricket played in the inaugural Mzansi Super League, but by and large, the standard hasn’t been as high as people would have liked to see. By all accounts, it also doesn’t help when some of the players are dashing off to play in T10 leagues around the world.

    I’m one of many who feel that the technical skill to play cricket will probably only be learned in the longer version of the game. It’s because you are only going to face a limited number of balls in T20 and technically you are never really going to be tested. You are tested in the longer version of the game and that is where you learn to have a solid base to be able to play better T20 cricket. However, the danger is that the next generation will believe that T20 cricket is where they are going to learn to play. And, in my opinion, I think it would be a mistake because the better players in the world have learned their trade by firstly playing in 50-over or four-day cricket. For me, it doesn’t work the other way around.

    The question one has to ask: Is the Mzansi Super League better than the Ram Slam T20 Challenge? Is the latter tournament not just as good as the former and does the MSL not come at a cost that is almost going to bankrupt Cricket South Africa? T20 cricket is always going to play a role now because it’s an income generator to fund other businesses. However, to be brutally honest, CSA has got into bed with a company – the SABC – that is tottering on its knees in the corner and about to be knocked out. The jury is still out in terms of how the partnership between CSA and SABC is going to work long term.

    In my view, doing a deal with an organisation whose financials are in such dire straits essentially amounts to reckless trading. Whether or not the partnership will succeed depends on how the SABC can come through this and sustain themselves as a partner in the business. The sustainability of the tournament will be determined by the financial success of the SABC and, at this point in time, I would say that it’s a poor venture. However, if you aren’t going to get into bed with SuperSport the problem is that, aside from the SABC, there are no other options in the local market.

    Knowing how it works in the television game, I can attest to the fact that it costs money to bring a quality product to the party. Are we doing the MSL just to say that we are one of the countries in the world with a T20 international tournament? At the moment, the question being asked is what cost has the tournament come at? In terms of the production and commentary, the SABC are struggling.

    The standard of production doesn’t help the commentary team and, in turn, a number of the commentators are very inexperienced. We all know that part-time people normally do a part-time job. T20 cricket is quite a difficult game to commentate on because you don’t have much time to think and you have to express yourself in short sentences. T20 is not an easy place to learn the trade.

    In spite of all the aforementioned challenges, from a viewership point of view it’s good that the MSL is on a free-to-air channel because it brings in viewers from lower income groups who can’t afford to subscribe to a pay-channel but who want to watch a national game. For the first time, the stranglehold that SuperSport has had over everyone has been broken. You have to create heroes that young kids want to emulate and to do that you need to put them in front of TVs so they can watch the action and aspire to become the players.

    It’s a great opportunity for cricket in South Africa per se because the game is going out to the masses. Inevitably, I foresee the coverage of the Mzansi Super League falling back to the pay-TV channel in the future. At the moment, I’m not sure that the SABC product is big and strong enough to command serious advertisers. We are competing with a T20 pie around the world, so the Mzansi Super League is always going to be measured against what it looks like against the IPL and Big Bash etc.

    If your product isn’t as good as theirs then international sponsors won’t decide to jump on the bandwagon.


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    Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

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    Pat Symcox