Bigger is not always better

For much of the last 20 years a constant theme in SA cricket has been growth and expansion. Millions of rand has been poured into the development and growth of the game with little thought and time given to how wisely it was spent and the long-term effects it would create.

One of the legacies of this expansion programme was the disproportionate growth of many peoples’ expectations. Cricket was going to take over the sporting landscape and claim its place amongst the global elite, and there was room at the head table for anyone big and bold enough to claim a seat.

Even when the Franchise system was adopted just over a decade ago, the supposed ‘streamlining’ of the domestic game really just expanded it leaving the eleven semi-professional provincial teams battling to exist alongside the professional ones. Instead of six teams, we had 17!

Every year it has been a struggle to break even. Until this year all eleven provinces maintained their own offices and administration, making their own bookings and running their own affairs. Most of those logistics have now been centralised saving millions of rand.

The greatest cost of all, however, has been the maintenance of the stadiums. All 12 of them. Like a fiscally challenged car enthusiast, South Africa has a wonderful collection – but not the financial means to stop them rusting and decaying.

Now, finally, everyone has agreed it’s time to face reality. Of the 19 international fixtures the Proteas will play at home this season, 16 (four each) will be staged by The Wanderers, Kingsmead, Centurion and Newlands. St.George’s Park, Senwes Park and Chevrolet Park will each host a single ODI. Which means nothing in Kimberley, Benoni and East London while while Paarl and Maritzburg will host an England warm-up game.

It may be sad for the local populations, but it is an economic reality. The ‘minor’ venues actually receive as much as three times the revenue from their CSA split from a game hosted by a major venue than they would if they had hosted it themselves.

Buffalo Park, for example, would do well to take the Buffalo by the horns and demolish some of the stands it has been battling for so long to maintain. Build grass banks – they’re far more enjoyable than plastic seats or wooden benches and cost virtually nothing to maintain.

It is a myth than international fixtures are the lifeblood of cricket in the smaller centres. There have never, ever been enough matches to go around and a provincial union cannot survive on one ODI every three or four years. Yes, it is a wonderful sight and experience in a fully packed Boland Park, but it is simply not sustainable.

In the new era pragmatism and reality have taken the place of romance and idealism, and the new era begins now.

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