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How restructuring impacts SA cricket

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While as many as 75 domestic men’s contracts will be lost in the provincial restructure, it will move South African cricket closer to what is a broadly established figure worldwide for professional cricket.

FILE – The domestic four-day competition provides a crucial foundation for South African cricket, in particular for the Proteas. Picture: Samuel Shivambu, BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – While as many as 75 domestic men’s contracts will be lost in the provincial restructure confirmed by Cricket SA this week, the lower figure will move South African cricket closer to what is a broadly established figure world wide for professional cricket.

The reconfiguration of the domestic game, moving it away from the six-team franchise system and back to a 15-side provincial structure, could see players on the move to different provinces, while it will also provide scope for multi-year contracts.

At present, besides the 17 nationally contracted men’s players, there are around 280 professional domestic contracts in South Africa, 106 divided among the six franchises, and the rest in senior provincial or semi-pro level.

In the new system, which will see the 15 provinces divided into two divisions, that figure will be reduced by between 70 and 75. “In every model looked at with CSA in the last year, around 15, there were always going to be approximately 70 to 75 fewer contracts,” said the SA Cricketers Association’s chief executive, Andrew Breetzke.

Through its own inquiries around the world, Breetzke said it was found that the normal figure for domestic professional contracts, that will enable a top international team, sat in the region of 180 to 200.

With players having been kept regularly in the loop about the restructure and how it would affect them, this week’s announcement about fewer playing contracts wasn’t a surprise. In fact, Breetzke said there was a sense of relief among the country’s players that there is finally some clarity about the new system.

“There was what I call ‘restructure fatigue,’ that had set in with players just wanting there to be finality about the process. This has been going on for a long time.”

There is a flip side to that relief and that is the concern there will be for those who don’t get offered contracts – who fall among that group of up to 75 players.

“Usually every season around 20 guys go off contracts through retirement, but those are players who planned to leave and they retain trailing benefits that apply to medical aid and so on. This year, there will be guys who didn’t plan to leave, so may not be as well prepared,” said Breetzke.

The Saca executive was working on various plans to assist those players. “We are looking at starting a fund, to help guys, who may want to study. If a guy thought he was going to have a career, now doesn’t have a contract we will try and help by inviting them in and assisting them with studying for a career.

“We will look at some sort of hardship fund – similar to what happened with Covid – for players who find themselves in a difficult predicament suddenly.”

It was back in 2016 that restructuring the domestic game was first mooted, but it was only announced in April 2019 by CSA, and then without the input of Saca, putting the federation in breach of the Memorandum of Understanding it had with the players union.

That dispute ended up in court and was a critical element in the meltdown that occurred within CSA’s administration.

With players having been kept abreast of the changes announced on Monday, there is a much better understanding of why the restructure was necessary – the long term financial viability of the sport in the country being central to the reasons it’s had to occur.

There are benefits in terms of more cricket – or ‘playing opportunities’ – that the players are pleased about. “There will be more playing opportunities especially with players contracted across formats.”

The details regarding how the competitions will work – if there will be home and away fixtures for the first class competition for instance – will still be announced, but there’ll certainly be more limited overs cricket in both One-Day and T20 formats.

In addition, the promotion/relegation element for the first class tournament, adds some much needed life to the domestic game. “We got into a complacent scenario in franchise cricket where it doesn’t matter how badly you do – you are there next year and get an allocation – now there are consequences and at a lower level there is an incentive,” said Breetzke.

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“You could see a scenario where a team in the second division, gets a bit of investment in order to strive to get into the top division.”

In addition the provinces will be able to sign players to multi-year deals, with a clause for at least two contracts, for three years, already agreed. “It doesn’t seem like a big thing, but it does offer players some peace of mind.”

Once Cricket SA announces the list of nationally contracted – later this month – the eight first division provinces can start planning for the eight players they will sign to multi-year contracts. Once that process is completed, the remaining spots at the provinces will be filled.

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