Dose of perspective needed in grading Mzansi Super League
Cape Town - The Mzansi Super League (MSL) is ticking some boxes and missing others.
The positives? Young South African cricketers are playing on an international stage for the first time, the game is finally being taken to the South African masses via the SABC and, perhaps most importantly, the quality of the cricket itself has been of a pleasingly high standard.
The negatives? Crowd numbers remain a concern, most of the overseas players are available for only part of the tournament, there are still serious question marks over the role of major sponsors and there are some unavoidable and cringeworthy elements that come with the SABC production.
Most would agree on the above assessment of where this product lands its punches, and indeed where it doesn't.
The fact is, however, that this tournament is now off the ground despite South Africa being more than a decade late to the T20 party.
In some ways, it is a small miracle that it is happening at all given the embarrassment of the failed Global League of 2017 and the uncertainty that accompanied the MSL almost all the way up until the first ball of the tournament was bowled on November 16.
Our chief writer, Rob Houwing, gave a hard-hitting assessment of the quality of the MSL so far in a piece entitled: Mzansi for sure? Maybe not so … on Tuesday.
It was a piece that I feel was needed.
Since the beginning of this tournament we have felt an excitement, almost giddiness, coming from influential people in South African cricket: media, organisers and administrators.
It is understandable, given that this is a new, fresh product that has the potential to change the cricketing landscape in South Africa.
It is vitally important that this tournament succeeds, and anyone who cares about cricket wants it to, but there needs to be an element of objectivity when assessing where the tournament is failing.
We cannot simply follow it blindly, punting the product at every turn, blurring the line between fan and journalist in the process.
Haroon Lorgat has no problem pointing out the flaws in the MSL and the former CSA CEO, in the nicest way possible, blasted the MSL as an amateurish product in Houwing's piece.
Lorgat, of course, was the mastermind behind the Global League. The failure of that tournament to get off the ground is ultimately what cost Lorgat his job, and it left CSA in a world of trouble as disgruntled franchise owners and contracted players sought significant compensation.
It is no surprise, then, that Lorgat is less than complimentary when it comes to the new CSA leadership and the MSL.
He must, though, accept some accountability for the journey up until here.
Under Lorgat, after millions were spent on the tournament, the Global League had still not unveiled a broadcaster or a title sponsor by the time the CSA board pulled the plug.
There were also reports of Lorgat having withheld crucial information from CSA's Chief Financial Officer, Nassei Appiah.
Whether that is true or not - it depends who you talk to - Lorgat, as the man in charge, must accept at least some (most?) of the blame for the Global League bombing the way it did.
To label the MSL as "a second-grade product" is surely not fair after just a few weeks.
Once the tournament is done, we can look back and assess. In doing so, we must identify areas - and there are many - where improvements are necessary, and we must hold CSA accountable.
Make no mistake, the success of this tournament is potentially make-or-break for CSA and particularly CEO Thabang Moroe.
The decision to bin the Global League, rebrand, and then go ahead with the MSL must be vindicated, and it will not be if there are 3 000 or 4 000 people attending matches.
The tournament needs bigger crowds than that.
We must be careful, though, of comparing the MSL to more successful T20 leagues elsewhere.
The IPL is its own beast and no other competition compares, but even the Big Bash has had seven editions to get to where it is today.
A title sponsor, a broadcast partner, a family environment with all matches in holiday season, a traditional cricket viewership and a thriving economy all contributed to fans streaming through the gates when Australia launched its T20 cash cow.
How many of those boxes does the MSL tick?
At the moment, not many.
CSA will need to get through the rest of the 2018 edition unscathed, and then get to work immediately on plans for 2019.
There cannot be a situation where the marquee international players are available for only a fraction of the competition. There needs to be a lucrative title sponsor. There needs to be tangible growth in crowd numbers.
Those are the very real challenges facing this league. Let's not pretend that they don't exist, but let's make sure we give CSA a chance to find ways around them.
Lloyd Burnard is a journalist at Sport24 and the former Sports Editor of The Witness newspaper ...
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