Provincial Challenge cricket — a misunderstood concept

2008-10-15 00:00

Feedback regarding the article on the transformation issue in cricket that appeared in last Thursday’s Witness suggests that some have misunderstood the thrust of the piece.

The article, which attempted to outline the inconsistencies in Cricket South Africa’s implementation of their transformation policy, pointed to the Provincial Challenge division that operates at first-class level, but below that of the six franchises.

This competition, as pointed out by several prominent cricket personalities, including KZN Inland player/coach Doug Watson, is designed to groom SA-qualified players to make the step up to franchise level.

At franchise level, a minimum one overseas player per team is allowed, as the SA-qualified franchise cricketers are being groomed to make the step up to national level, with the country’s flagship Proteas team currently led by Graeme Smith and coached by Mickey Arthur the pinnacle of the pyramid.

It would be counter-productive to the Proteas’ cause if promising SA-potential players were made to take a back seat, if any at all, due to the presence of more than one prominent overseas player in the Dolphins team, for example, hence the signing by that franchise of just one such player — Sanath Jayasuriya.

Therefore it is nonsensical that non-South Africans be “allowed” as is currently the case — and illegally one suspects in terms of CSA rules — to play in the lower-level Provincial Challenge competition, where the need is even greater to unearth and bring through the most promising SA-qualified cricketers.

This must not be misconstrued as xenophobia on the part of the writer — nothing could be further from the truth. By all means must these players play in the club cricket tier, but not at provincial level at the expense of SA-qualified talent. Of course, like overseas player Imran Tahir at the Titans, should these players serve their qualification period, there should be no problem in them playing Provincial Challenge cricket and above.

It is not about the foreign-born cricketer, but about the purpose of the Provincial Challenge system and for what it ultimately stands. In not-altogether similar fashion, but no less valid, has been the selection of non-South Africans, who are attending school here, for age-group provincial teams at the expense of home-grown cricketers.

Probably the best example of the Provincial Challenge competition’s intention is current Dolphins and South Africa A left-arm fast bowler Yusuf Abdullah, who was “discovered” by KZN Inland as a raw talent and given the opportunity to take his cricket further. Abdullah made the breakthrough when Inland were still in the Associate Provinces competition, before their elevation to their current status.

Other Inland players to come through the Provincial Challenge system to represent the Dolphins are Morné van Vuuren and Ross McMillan. The point is, how many others could there be in the future? Less, surely, if the tough competition for the few places in Provincial Challenge teams are being taken by cricketers who are not eligible to play at this level.

The Provincial Challenge concept is brilliant in its simplicity and focus, but a concept that appears all too easily blindsided by unions intent on success rather than seeing the bigger picture — why the competition is there in the first place.

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