Look after the little guys

If there’s one thing we have learned from the one-day series against Sri Lanka it is that CSA must do more to encourage top-class cricket in the smaller unions.

It isn’t possible to stage ODIs in Paarl, East London and Kimberley every year but what was painfully obvious to those of us who travelled around the country was that after eight years of the Franchise system it remains as unpopular and divisive as it was back in 2004/05.

The second tier of first-class cricket started as an ‘amateur’ competition before changing to ‘semi-amateur’. In truth, it serves no genuinely useful purpose and the standard of play is neither first-class nor improving.

Without a meaningful incentive for both the players and administrators to raise their collective performances and reach for higher goals, nothing will change. The Franchises are that only in name. The relationship between Griquas and Free State remains as frosty as ever while the Warriors are aptly named given the amount of love lost between East London and Port Elizabeth.

International cricket provides a wonderful but short-lived placebo. The long-term solution is to admit that the domestic game is not working and to reinvent its structure once again. It will take humility, courage and imagination – but it could revitalise the game in traditional areas such as the Boland and Border.

The six Franchises can remain intact and form the first division of the new structure. The five ‘minor’ provinces can contest the second division which should remain first-class. The critical new dimension, however, should be the promotion and relegation of one team per year.

The difference such a system has made to the minor unions in the Currie Cup is phenomenal and the same would certainly apply to their cricketing counterparts. It would also ensure that more matches retain their intensity at the end of a season when just two or three teams have a chance of winning the Supersport Series and the others are involved in a dogfight to avoid relegation.

Detractors will point to the potential damage caused to the national team if elite players in the relegated team cannot compete in the top flight – strength versus strength. That can be easily resolved by transferring those players to the promoted team. All three of the minor teams I spoke to said they would be happy to remain a ‘feeder’ province to their bigger brothers.

While the national team prepare for a fascinating tour to New Zealand and the higher challenges posed by England and Australia later in the year, an opportunity presents itself to the game’s administrators to make a fundamental change to the way the country’s grass-roots players perceive their chances of being recognised and rewarded.

 

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