You’ve been warned

2009-04-03 00:00

JUST when it seemed that the cricket season was in its last throes, it is about to receive a burst of T20 cricket in the form of the IPL that will now take it deep into May.

The enthusiasm with which CSA and the England Cricket Board sought to become temporary hosts of an exiled IPL belied the reality of the situation, which is that they were competing with each other to look after the business of a cricket body that has nothing, apart from a few bags of silver, to offer their own interests. No amount of propaganda can conceal the fact that the IPL is a parasite body that feeds off the best produce from the traditional fields of cricket.

Like painted whores on opposite sides of a street the two cricket authorities cut their prices in an attempt to attract a punter whose only motive was that of self-preservation. Their own welfare could not have been further from the thoughts of the privateers who run the IPL and own its teams. It should be remembered that not a cent of any surpluses accruing to the IPL finds its way into the coffers of any of the member nations of the ICC save that of India itself. The process has resembled that of a son rushing into the sea to save the shark and not his father.

Nevertheless the bid cobbled together by CSA to host 59 matches of T20 cricket will not be without benefit to cricket in this country. Those unions hosting matches will receive R125 000 for each game. In addition they will receive the full costs of each match staged. They were asked to fix these costs in advance and one hopes that their calculations took into account every cent that could possibly be attributed to each match.

Tougher negotiators might have held out for a share of the IPL’s lucrative television revenues as well as a portion of the gate takings but CSA was worried about the competition from both the ECB and the sports promoters of Sharjah in the UAE. The reality, however, was that the South African bid was the only game in town. The English season could not have really countenanced an up-the-road opposition to its own cricket and it is doubtful if Sharjah has the capacity to hosts 59 matches in six weeks. Neither of the competing bidders could have matched the cheaper costs of staging cricket in South Africa.

When all is said and done, CSA and its affiliates should pocket upwards of R7.3 million for ground fees and hopefully a similar contribution after forking out for the variable cost of staging each match. In other words some R14 million of windfall revenue is on its way to South African cricket.

That being the case, cricket supporters in South Africa, whether or not they appreciate the shorter game, might just as well lie back and enjoy it.

If one was to believe the spin coming out of Supersport’s well-briefed commentators we are all in for six weeks of cricket entertainment that will make all that has gone before this season seem tepid by comparison. There can be no doubt that out of 59 matches some will be real thrillers but if the developing history of T20 cricket is a reliable guide most of the contests will be decided well before the three-quarter mark.

What will be interesting will be to see how the T20 game is evolving both in its playing and in the balance of teams selected. Already it has become obvious that teams need several batsmen who can clear the boundary ropes with comparative ease. Conventional batsmen can be curtailed to run rates that will not win many matches. Forced out of their comfort zones they tend to make mistakes that cause their dismissals. Their real value consists in ensuring that the strike is quickly turned over to the hitters.

There is increasing evidence that slow bowlers who have a mastery of variations of pace are more difficult to get hold of than the faster men. In this regard it is surprising that a bowler like Johan Botha, who has such mastery at his disposal, was unable to secure an IPL contract. This suggests that the scouting mechanisms of the IPL are not yet fully developed.

One would think that as bowling skills increase totals that are defendable will come down provided the nonsense of reducing boundary sizes is discontinued. I trust that South African groundsmen will not be suckered into making their playing areas any smaller than they already are.

Purists will find pleasure in seeing which of the really great players of proper cricket are able to adjust their games to be successful at the shorter game. I suspect that most of us are delighted at the imminent and unforeseen reappearance of Shane Warne on our cricket fields.

If anything Warne’s legend has grown larger since his disappearance from conventional cricket.

The Australian team are so much weaker for his absence that his skills have almost become deified. The big IPL money may have gone into the pockets of Pietersen and Flintoff but Warne, with his ability to turn cricket into theatre, will surely be the league’s greatest attraction in this country.

His team, which includes Graeme Smith, are the defending champions. It would surprise me if they do not also become the favourite side of most South Africans.

•Ray White is a former UCB president.

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