Getting Pumped

While the majority of South Africa’s cricketers battled through their sponsorless domestic T20 tournament for the last time (it’s cancelled next year) and the elite were enjoying another season of IPL, an international series reached its conclusion just north of our borders. You could be forgiven for missing it. Zimbabwe played the United Arab Emirates in a four match ODI series.

Nine months ago the unfancied UAE beat Zimbabwe by three runs in their World Cup Qualifier match in Harare to eliminate the host nation from the tournament proper when they had looked in control not only of that match but the whole tournament.

Zimbabwe Cricket had been in financial trouble before but, without the income from a World Cup, not only were hearts and dreams broken, so was every financial rescue plan that had been drawn up. The ICC, led by Cricket Australia and the England Cricket Board, was encouraged to cut Zimbabwe loose and let them flounder into oblivion, like 2003 semi finalists Kenya have done. It would have been brutally harsh, but nobody could have said that ZC had not contributed to their own demise.

Perhaps it is because he is an African, but outgoing CEO David Richardson decided to give ZC one last chance. A combination of ‘business rescue’ and ‘fiscal rehab’ now sees the ICC pay ZC’s annual grant in small installments – and then oversee the signing of virtually every cheque. Supervision for recovering addicts is important, of course.

In order for ZC to generate any income of its own and move away from mere survival on its ICC hand out, they need to arrange international content and then generate sponsorship and advertising by televising it. If you think small enough, anything is possible.

The UAE has a dedicated sports channel and there is enough competition in certain areas of commerce to tempt a sponsor. Turns out a pump manufacturer was prepared to pay $50k to be the headline sponsor for the four matches. As it happens, that is very close to the hourly rate for a ‘normal’ international cricket production. But there was a determination to make it work.

So five cameras instead of the industry standard minimum of 10. No square leg cameras for line decisions and no third umpire replays for boundary decisions. No DRS – obviously. Old-fashioned cricket. The director and his sole VT editor sat at a single mixing desk on the camera platform above the sight screen while the two stats and graphics guys plugged in wherever they could find a seat. We all slept in the spare rooms of locals and breakfasted from the family cereal cupboard. We worked for a quarter of our usual fee.

Former captain Brendan Taylor, injured at the moment, was happy to commentate for free. These were austerity and belt-tightening measures the like of which Cricket South Africa could only have nightmares. But they would do well to start thinking about some harsh, practical realities now.

Having assembled the skeleton crew and hired the few bits of kit for the production, which couldn’t be begged, borrowed or stolen, coverage of the first two matches was astonishingly good – if I say so myself – given the limitations. There was just a chance, a small chance, that we might even make a few dollars on the last two games. One or two potential sponsors had noticed the visuals on our live stream and expressed an interest. Zimbabwean companies, no less.

Then the sponsor announced that he wasn’t going to pay the 50% balance. He’d had plenty of airtime to flog some pumps in the Emirates and decided not to honour the contract. But that’s what happens to small guys, they get pumped. Appropriately enough, they are irrigation and sewerage pumps.

CSA’s decision to dissolve the Franchise system and revert to Provinces will save money, for sure. Travel, accommodation, salaries, balls, shower gel…maybe even a couple of hundred million. Seriously, it adds up amongst 20 teams. This way there will be only 12. But here’s the thing: cost-cutting on that scale is highly unlikely to make a significant difference to the long term bottom line.

The lack of international cricket on the Proteas’ schedule for the next four years (less than at any other time since 1992) and the lack of ‘quality’ in those fixtures will result in a calamitous drop in television revenue. The Future Tours Programme is decided and there isn’t a lot CSA can do about it. India’s BCCI dominates the programme with Cricket Australian and the England Cricket Board. International cricket reflects life in the rest of the world. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

CSA has spoken about “diversification” and “extra revenue generation” but, so far, there’s been no sign of it. It’s not just a good concept. It really does have to happen. It’s no fun working at the behest of a shit pump

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