Peter Robinson

Six is more than enough

2005-06-07 08:18

In a year during which South Africa's sports administrators have managed to get it wrong at almost every turn, one set of officials have finally brought some common sense to bear on an important issue.

The committee set up by the United Cricket Board to review the professional franchise system reported back last week. Their findings were overshadowed by the announcement of Mickey Arthur as the new national coach, but in the long term, this review of the first-class system may have greater importance for the future of the game.

In brief, the committee, headed by former education minister Kader Asmal, recommended that the system, as used this past summer, be retained for a further five years with a couple of tweaks here and there.

Central franchise

The committee suggested that the UCB bring Griquas back into the fold and offered a couple of suggestions as to how this might be achieved: offer Griquas a 50 percent stake with Free State in what is currently the Eagles franchise and split the administrative centre between Kimberley and Bloemfontein.

Under this formula, Kimberley would be the home base for the first two years followed by Bloemfontein for the next year.

It's an awkward compromise, admittedly, but if East London and Port Elizabeth can share a franchise, then so too should Kimberley and Bloem be required to settle their differences.

The committee also wants the base of the Warriors franchise to be shifted from East London to Port Elizabeth, a suggestion that makes sense provided that the in-fighting that plagued Eastern Province two or three years ago can be shown to be a thing of the past.

Most important, though, is the recommendation that the franchise system be given another five years to prove itself.

To understand why, we need to go back some seven years, to the 1997/98 tour of Australia. South Africa lost the series, narrowly, but the abiding lesson was that if we were to remain competitive with the Aussies, we needed to streamline our provincial competition along the lines of the Pura Cup (Australia?s first-class competition).

Instead, just months later, South Africa increased the number of teams competing in the SuperSport Series from eight to 11.

I quote from the editor's note in the 1999 edition of the Mutual and Federal SA Cricket Annual:

"From a purely cricket aspect, the expansion of the SuperSport Series to include all 11 provincial unions is an alarming development.

Already senior have expressed concern about the standard of provincial cricket. Having more teams will not improve the quality."

And it didn't. Hence the introduction of the franchise system and a six-team premier competition.

After just one season, it's too soon to claim a noticeable improvement in the quality of cricket. Recently retired Titans skipper and former Test star Daryll Cullinan, for instance, thinks that when the international players are available for their franchises, the level of competition improves.

When they're absent, however, Cullinan believes that there's not much change from a couple of years ago.

The system needs time to settle, though, and this is what Prof. Asmal's committee has suggested. The argument that transformation requires more franchises is a red herring.

Financial implications

Quite apart from the financial implications - how the UCB has managed to fritter away the bonus of hosting the World Cup two years ago is another matter entirely - having more sides would simply mean more mediocrity.

First class cricket should not exist solely to supply players to the national team, but neither should it exist simply to provide ordinary cricketers with a pleasant living.

The most convincing argument for trimming down our premier provincial competition to six teams was to provide sharper, tougher competition which would better prepare cricketers for the step up to Test level.

That argument still stands.

Send your comments to Peter Robinson or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

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