Cape Town - The 2018/19 South African cricket season, which gets into full swing with the Proteas playing their first home fixture at relatively sleepy Kimberley on Sunday, shapes increasingly as the most perilous yet of the post-unity era.
“Shapes as”? Maybe I am even being kind.
The summer has enormous challenges, frighteningly few certainties.
Without wishing to get too doom-laden or dramatic, the possibility of a full-scale “crash and burn”, with very serious longer-term consequences, cannot be ruled out.
At the core of the instability lies the deeply controversial, trimmed new “SA T20 League” with a supposed, all-important international flavour.
The route toward it (now a sobering, mere 40-something days away) has only turned more rock-strewn, when it should instead have been noticeably cleared.
A formidable amount has to be done with enormous stealth, both logistically and in vital marketing terms, in the undesirably compressed lead-up ... and we should not yet rule out the possibility that it doesn’t take place at all, given the legal-threat rumblings from jilted overseas-based tournament franchise owners, who thought they had bought into the T20 Global League engineered - but then jettisoned, as later he was - in the winter of 2017 by former CSA CEO Haroon Lorgat.
Whether you liked him or not, Lorgat was a hard-nosed, fiercely industrious stalwart of senior International Cricket Council affairs and was good at making things happen.
Since his less than harmonious side-lining, the replacement tournament concocted, sans tangible conviction, by a more callow new guard has laboured excruciatingly (shrouded with near-crippling financial and other concerns) to get the sails up ... indeed, it appears to be a vessel battling to remain buoyant just below the waterline.
It could, worst-case scenario, plummet to the ocean floor, if ousted parties play really hardball in litigious terms and find court favour for their protestations.
For the moment, at least, the league shuffles shyly, tenuously toward its scheduled activation in November.
It at least occupies a prime window on the calendar, though that going to waste would be an embarrassment and irritation for the South African cricket family broadly. (Already, so much of the more “traditional” fare is pressed further and further into riskier, less inviting margins, a worldwide trend.)
But the league is also destined to go ahead without the critical presence of the lion’s share of premier-name hired guns who roam the planet (if it’s Tuesday, it must be the Afghani tournament, if it’s Wednesday West Indies … etc) gobbling up well-paid short-term T20 contracts.
Humiliatingly, when you consider how much more attractive any significant cricket event should be in established powerhouse South Africa, the likes of Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum, Kieron Pollard, Eoin Morgan, Shahid Afridi - and our own flesh and blood Morne Morkel and others - will be committed to a prior-arranged T10 wham-bam in Abu Dhabi. That’s right, Abu Dhabi.
This drawback is akin, I’d venture, to a Rolling Stones tour minus its Mick Jagger, really; a U2 concert missing The Edge on guitar.
Or as one of the miffed, now isolated T20 Global League investors said acidly to me in a recent chat, the replacement league could simply be “another RAM SLAM (the formerly-sponsored domestic franchise T20 competition) with a few extra firework bangs from the roof”.
From a broadcasting perspective, the SA T20 League has gone into cahoots with troubled parastatal public broadcaster the SABC.
In principle, of course, the sudden accessibility of the event to a much larger segment of the population sparks - or at least should - warm and fuzzy feelings.
But it may also affect attendances - bums on stadium seats will be a major part of the possibly uphill task of giving the league its soul, its “cred” - and the CSA/SABC alliance only stiffens widespread anxiety that the event floats on a highly poppable bubble, if you like, of monetary health.
The SABC, after all, amounts by leadership reputation, sometimes of the truly fruitcake variety, and vast patterns of cash haemorrhage to what the sharp commentator Tom Eaton called on Twitter a “smouldering crater”.
But CSA’s summer quandaries don’t end with the burdensome matter just in itself of the (long overdue ... already fatally so?) T20 flagship tournament.
A perfect storm may be on the brew, in a sense, as the season is also noteworthy - granted, we’ve known this for some time - for one of the least glamorous, incoming international tour rosters of recent summers.
With respect to height-of-season guests Sri Lanka and Pakistan, for all the difficulties they traditionally pose to the Proteas when hosting them in Asia, the SA public know that they almost unfailingly fare poorly on our shores, especially when it comes to the Test combat.
These are also eras where both nations sorely lack genuine, legendary names in their squads: oh, for a Murali, a Sangakkara, a Javed Miandad, or the toe-crushing threat of a Waqar or Shoaib Akhtar to enliven the landscape over the next few months.
It was Lorgat who always used to remind ruefully that incoming tours by teams like these - most commonly outside the global “big four” - don’t make money: you have to wait for an India (with the accompanying huge broadcast scope) or an England with their rowdy, brew-guzzling Barmy Army in tow to rebalance the CSA books.
Wednesday at Centurion, meanwhile, somehow served to savagely confirm the grim reality of the major domestic first-class four-day competition (once the Castle Currie Cup, SuperSport Series, Sunfoil Series) beginning, as the Titans squared up to the Dolphins, minus a sponsor.
There is something demoralising (at least that’s what I found) about going onto www.espncricinfo.com and clicking on decidedly unattractive, gravitas-lacking “4-Day Franchise Series” to find out the score in the match.
I sense a general summer where damage-limitation will be the decisive, over-riding theme for CSA; the very maximum benchmark of any 2018/19 ambition.
And ain’t that, as they say, a crying shame?
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing