Cape Town – Former Cricket South Africa CEO Haroon Lorgat’s controversially binned T20 Global League in 2017 had one thing going for it that the reworked, currently active Mzansi Super League boasts in smaller volume: genuinely big, proven names from the international landscape.
His larger, eight-team model – which would have featured Benoni and Bloemfontein-based franchises, both absent from the now two-season MSL – would have seen the following marquee players: Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo (West Indies), Lasith Malinga (Sri Lanka), Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan and Jason Roy (England) and Brendon McCullum (New Zealand).
At the time, they still counted among the major bums-on-seats players on the world T20 tournament circuit.
It is not the fault of the new, Thabang Moroe-led CSA regime, of course, that the already wobbling, six-team MSL could not lure the likes of Pietersen and McCullum: they have retired in the interim period.
Unavailability, for varying reasons, also cannot be avoided: for example, two of the three big Caribbean names, Pollard and Bravo (the latter represented Paarl Rocks last season) were non-starters for the 2019 MSL.
But it has meant, detrimentally, that only two of the cancelled Global League’s marquee overseas players – Gayle and Jason Roy – have kept that status for the current-version MSL, which is off to a rocky start both in gate-receipt and weather disruption-related terms.
The newcomers are Alex Hales, Tom Curran (a late starter for Tshwane Spartans after activity for England in their just-completed T20 series in New Zealand), Wahab Riaz (also initially absent through Pakistan duties) and Isuru Udana.
Sri Lankan all-rounder Udana entered the equation late as a replacement for David Willey, the England player deemed to require an easing of his workload.
Considering that the ill-fated Global League was also expected to find franchise homes for the likes of Chris Jordan, Dinesh Ramdin, Sam Billings, Mitch McLenaghan, Mohammad Hafeez, Yasir Shah and Dawid Malan, the much-discussed MSL which stepped into the void looks more of a cut-price exercise when it comes to cosmopolitan feel – something that is usually considered beneficial as events of this kind are supposed to be a key cut above purely domestic franchise cricket because of the relative galaxy of international figures infusing them.
Especially as CSA has transformation requirements, affecting the composition and volume of locally-based personnel, the overseas-based players are under deeper pressure to justify their berths and not simply be seen as globetrotting journeymen making up numbers to bolster the perception of an “international” ingredient.
While Gayle, the so-called “Universe Boss” because of his formidable reputation for power hitting worldwide, naturally remains a drawcard on paper, he is also 40 years old now, noticeably cumbersome in the field and a stand-and-deliver sort of batsman not renowned for sprinting for sharp singles or pushing hard for twos and threes.
The MSL also features several non-marquee overseas players who have either been used very sparingly by their home countries in T20 internationals (the Cape Town Blitz’s Liam Livingstone has two England caps, for example) or are past their primes for highest-level combat: Jozi Stars’ Australian all-rounder Dan Christian, 36, played the last of his 16 T20 internationals more than two years ago and has an unflattering batting best for his country of nine and premier bowling figures of three for 27.
Are some of the overseas participants taking up spots that could, a little ironically, better be allocated to locally-based players?
The next couple of weeks, as the tournament develops, could provide some answers …
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