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Australia v South Africa 2022/23

England’s revolutions offer South Africa hope, but first the Proteas need to keep the lights on

South Africa have on-and-off field woes
by Cameron Ponsonby 4 minute read

South Africa have had a miserable few months on the pitch. But their greater problems lie off it, writes Cameron Ponsonby.

The SA20 starts in a couple of weeks. A new T20 competition, flush with Indian money, that is designed to save South African cricket. After all, the answer to any and all of life’s problems can be found at the bottom of a broadcast deal.

And given India paid for it, the matches are scheduled to suit an Indian TV audience first and South Africa’s second. Not ideal, but you don’t turn down a lifejacket because it’s too yellow.


There’s one problem, however. South Africa is currently experiencing severe power cuts. To the extent that matches in their domestic T20 competition, the CSA T20 Challenge, were being moved to earlier in the day because the floodlights were out of action. But that can’t be done in the SA20 because South Africa isn’t in control and the matches have to be played at the times the big money boys want. And so a blackout-stricken South Africa is set to hold game after game of floodlit cricket.

The games will go ahead, as ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent Firdose Moonda’s recent article explains, because generators will be hired and stadiums will run off independent power supplies.

But the point is that whilst it is still a step forward for South Africa, in that they have the money that lets them keep the lights on, they do not have a choice. And that matters.


In 2015, England crashed out of the World Cup in circumstances embarrassing enough to prompt a revolution consisting of 50 per cent magic and 50 per cent Irishman that saw them, almost overnight, reinvent the way white-ball cricket was played and ended with a ODI World Cup win in 2019 and a T20 World Cup victory in 2022.

And as recently as June, England had won just one of their previous 17 Test matches, prompting a game-wide review. In the six months that have passed since then, they have crafted a brand-new ethos consisting of 50 per cent magic and 50 per cent testosterone that has seen them become the greatest Test team in the history of all time, ever [citation needed].

On pitch turnarounds can happen quickly and that should give a grief-stricken South Africa hope after only weather saved them from five Test losses in a row and a World Cup exit at the hands of their own B team (The Netherlands).

But the problem is that to compare the two is a false equivalence. Because South Africa’s off-field woes are so much worse than England’s have ever been.

In the short time since Ben and Baz took over, England have had ten Test matches in which to craft and build an ethos and develop a style of play. By contrast, after this Sydney Test, South Africa play just three more Tests in the entirety of 2023 and don’t have another three-match Test series until 2026. There simply isn’t enough cricket for them to lift themselves out of their current malaise.

“The disappointment that we aren’t playing more Tests this year sits with a lot of players,” said South Africa captain Dean Elgar ahead of the Sydney Test. “They would like to be playing a lot more. It would be nice if we could have a massive influence in that but I guess the administrators feel we need to establish something in order to have revenue going forward.”

“The reality for countries like us,” Cricket South Africa CEO Pholetsi Moseki explained earlier this year, ”is that you only make money when you play India. In the post-Covid year, we hosted England and Australia and we still made a loss. So we have to look at other options.”

To save South African cricket, the South African national team must play less cricket.

The hope is that the SA20 opens up new revenue streams and South Africa will once again be able to focus on and afford Test cricket. But those streams are entirely dependent on a foreign party who hold all the aces. It’s an Indian broadcast agreement. And all six of the SA20 sides are owned by IPL team owners.


When car manufacturer Chevrolet signed a US$559 million, seven-year-deal to sponsor Manchester United in 2012, it was the most lucrative sponsorship in Premier League history and remains so to this day. The kicker? Chevrolet didn’t even sell cars in the UK.

They wanted a piece of Man Utd. To use them to grow in the regions where they did operate. If a foreign party wants a piece of you, that’s a sign of strength.

The problem for South Africa, is that India didn’t want a piece of them, but to own them. And that’s a sign of weakness.

South Africa didn’t have much of a choice. But those life jackets really are yellow.

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