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Why More South African Men aren’t being Picked in T20 Leagues
A lack of T20 specialization and financial instability has led to dwindling interest in South African men's team players
There is a strong perception that South African players outside of the AB De Villiers, Faf Du Plessis and Imran Tahir’s of this world are not being regularly picked in overseas T20 leagues. While the focus of this article is on the IPL, franchises and teams across the world are becoming less interested in South African talent. There are many factors as to why this has been the case, especially in recent years. When you dig deeper into the facts you will see things are not quite as simple as they may seem.
Looking at the T20I series between the West Indies and South Africa in July, when you consider the large percentage difference of boundaries between the two teams, it’s not surprising that there are more West Indians than South Africans at the IPL. However, this has only been true over the last few seasons.
If we go back to IPL 2018, there were eight South Africans and seven West Indians. In the 2019 season, we see that ten South Africans went to the IPL as opposed to eleven West Indians and in 2020 it was 13:11 in favour of the West Indians.
In IPL history, twenty-one more players have been picked from South Africa than from the West Indies but generally, the main IPL sides have been picking the same six players from South Africa in recent times. Taking into consideration the number of IPL games played by those featuring in the recent T20I series, Kieron Pollard, Lendl Simmons, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell, Chris Gayle, and Nicholas Pooran total 593 matches. Of the six most experienced SA players who could be at the 2021 T20 World Cup, Quinton De Kock, Kagiso Rabada, David Miller, Imran Tahir, Chris Morris, and Faf Du Plessis total 423 IPL games. That is a difference of 170 caps in a competition where the standard of cricket is often higher than in Men’s T20Is.
A source who has worked as a T20 team analyst in The Hundred told All Over Cricket why he believes South African batters in particular are being overlooked by top T20 leagues.
“The main issue for South Africa is the focus on frequent low boundary percentage players. South Africa also appears to produce a lot of players who are more 'anchor' types and classical players as opposed to 'hitters' who are ideal for T20 franchises,” said the analyst.
“Furthermore, there appears to be a dynamic where South African batters tend to have mediocre strike rates versus spin bowling, which is a clear issue in the modern world of match ups. Poor spin hitting intent appears to be a regular dynamic among South African batters and this will naturally affect post-powerplay batting.”
A second source that worked as an analytics consultant for a T20 World Cup-winning team agrees, telling All Over Cricket that South Africans who offer a point of difference have a good chance of attracting attention.
“If some sort of specialization happens, you will see more South African players being picked in the leagues, as with Marco Jansen this year.”
To build on the point of specialization, the West Indies and the South African squads in the T20I series last month were very different. South Africa’s squad of nineteen had thirteen Test cricketers and the West Indies squad of eighteen had seven players who had played Test cricket.
It is this lack of understanding of the advantages of picking specialists that is hampering South Africa in this format. There is an over-reliance on Test players that are either not suited to the T20 format or have not adapted to how the format is currently being played.
Global T20 and Mzansi Super League
The other problem for South Africa has been its own T20 competition the Mzansi Super League (MSL) and the mess of its precursor the Global T20 League.
The MSL has not had a title sponsor in its first two years, was not broadcast in Australia in its first year, and South Africa’s satellite company SuperSport did not buy it. Instead, it was picked up virtually for free by the cash-strapped South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). Like all new ventures, the MSL has cost CSA a huge amount of money with losses standing at approximately 200 million Rand or 14 million USD in its first two years. When you consider that the Big Bash only saw profit from season six of the competition and the IPL from season ten, CSA will need to turn things around quickly.
In positive news, it was announced last week that CSA has signed a five-year deal for a title sponsor for the MSL. Sources have indicated to All Over Cricket that the identity of the title sponsor could be revealed on Thursday 9th September, the same day that the Men’s T20 World Cup squad is due to be announced.
Unfortunately, even with a potential sponsor, overseas player recruitment has been a problem in the first two seasons where South Africans who participated in the MSL did not play the best T20 cricketers in the world. Sadly, given a saturated cricket calendar, the competition has previously clashed with the BPL, Abu Dhabi T10, and the Australian summer.
Until big names like Lamichhane, Maxwell, or Babar Azam can be convinced to sign up long-term along with the MSL getting their finances in order, the competition will struggle to gain traction in the eyes of international broadcasters, which will threaten the future of the league.
The statistics expert from The Hundred summed it up well when he said, “A successful T20 competition is driven by high-quality players, lots of sponsorships, more deals with overseas broadcasters and the MSL doesn’t have that right now.”
For as long as South Africa ignores the role of specialists in T20 cricket and for as long as CSA is unable to get their finances in order, you won’t see the Proteas shine in T20 cricket.
Header Image: CPL Twitter
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