New contracting model sees SA's cricket franchises struggle for continuity

Ashwell Prince (Gallo Images)
Ashwell Prince (Gallo Images)

The transfer activity in South African domestic cricket over the past few weeks has been noticeably more chaotic than usual, with squad announcements for the 2020/21 season showing numerous movements between franchises. 

It all stems from the proposed domestic restructure that has been on Cricket South Africa's (CSA) agenda for the past few years. 

Under the previous Thabang Moroe administration, CSA had agreed to enforce a domestic expansion that had originally been planned for the 2020/21 season, despite resistance from the South African Cricketers' Association (SACA). The expansion would see the system revert to a more provincial format, scrapping the franchises and including some of the current semi-professional unions. 

The CSA leadership was convinced, and plans were made to facilitate the restructure. One of those plans came in the form of a decision to ensure that, at the end of the 2019/20 season, players would be available for contracting. 

In January 2019, when the possibility of the domestic restructure was raised, SACA and CSA agreed to an amendment to their Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would place a moratorium on two-year contracts to facilitate a possible new structure being in place for the 2020/2021 season.

It was agreed that all domestic contracts would expire at the end of April 2020 and that, ahead of the 2019/20 domestic season, no contracts longer than one-year could be awarded. 

So, when they 2019/20 season came to an end because of the coronavirus last month and plans for 2020/21 began, franchises were operating in the knowledge that, at the end of April 2020 (all professional contracts run from 1 May to 30 April) 100% of the country's domestic cricketers would technically be out of contract. 

It created a window that Cape Cobras coach Ashwell Prince has described as a "bit of a nightmare". 

The contracted Proteas are obviously not part of that equation. A newly contracted Proteas player must commit to his current franchise for a period of two years, but after that he can choose which franchise he represents. 

While the domestic restructure is still possible for the 2021/22 season, CSA has allowed franchises to each award eight players a two-year contract ahead of the upcoming season, in line with the MOU.

"It's difficult for players on one-year contracts to do things like buy cars or houses," Andrew Breetzke, CEO of SACA, explained. 

SACA has given an assurance that there is enough money to pay salaries up until the end of the 2020/21 season. 

For the franchise coaches, meanwhile, the current contracting climate has presented challenges. 

"It's basically a free for all and then down to the highest bidder, which is not ideal," Prince said.

"CSA has come out and told us that we can give eight players a two-year contract starting from 1 May, so again next year you will have 10 players where it is a free for all.

"What makes things worse is that, if we do go to 12 provinces next year, then that's even more of a bun fight.

"There will be people sitting with a lot of money but not a lot of players and they can throw whatever they like at these players, which makes things very difficult."

The Cape Cobras lost players like Lizaad Williams, Matthew Kleinveldt, Ferisco Adams, Mthiwekhaya Nabe, Tladi Bokako, Simon Khomari and Thando Ntini for 2020/21, while Prince also used the example of wicketkeeper Mangaliso Mosehle, who was on loan at Newlands towards the end of the 2019/20 season. 

"We offered him a contract and his agent said to me that it was '99% done'," Prince said.

"The next day he phoned me back and said he had changed his mind. Every franchise is going through the same situation. 

"All of a sudden you lose three or four of your players and then you're sitting with some money." 

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