SA20: South Africa bank on new T20 competition to fund cricket future as IPL influence alters landscape

The new SA20 T20 competition will launch in South Africa on Tuesday  (Getty Images)
The new SA20 T20 competition will launch in South Africa on Tuesday (Getty Images)

So, welcome to the future — it's already begun. The not-especially soft-power influence of the Indian Premier League on the rest of global cricket takes another step forward on Tuesday afternoon, as South Africa's new domestic T20 league launches at a sold-out Newlands.

The IPL's overlords already have fingers in franchise pies across the globe, but the SA20 will be the first competition outside India to be contested solely between teams owned by IPL franchise groups.

Should the subtle links between the names of MI Cape Town, Paarl Royals, Sunrisers Eastern Cape or Pretoria Capitals and their IPL twins be missed, then there are always the Joburg Super Giants to fall back on, not to be confused with matchday one rivals Durban Super Giants, nor a local brand of cigarettes.

And, failing all that, there are the IPL-inspired kits, already vaguely recognisable and certain to become more so, as the tentacles spread in the coming years, possibly even to these shores.

It is with such mocking facetiousness that many have greeted the arrival of yet another T20 franchise competition into a calendar already bursting with them.

Australia's Big Bash does not finish for another four weeks; the Bangladesh Premier League is already underway; and, most symbolically of all, another new league, the ILT20 in the United Arab Emirates, starts later this week, with half of its franchises also under IPL owner stewardship.

England bowler Jofra Archer will compete for MI Cape Town as he returns to competitive cricket (Getty Images)
England bowler Jofra Archer will compete for MI Cape Town as he returns to competitive cricket (Getty Images)

That is before even mentioning the international cricket running concurrently, and attempting to keep across it all will doubtless prove a fool's errand.

But beyond the general saturation, it is the SA20 that offers glaring indicators as to where the game is headed. On its current trajectory, cricket is racing towards a more club-oriented future, the extreme of which would arrive upon a football-style calendar with gaps for the international game (such as the one for England's ODI series against South Africa at the end of the month), rather than vice-versa.

Already in action is a lite-version of a world where players are owned by organisations, not teams, and turn out for their franchises around the globe.

Most of the SA20 squads were moulded at an IPL-style open auction, but before it some of the hosts country's best-known white-ball players — Anrich Nortje, Quinton de Kock, Dewald Brevis and Aiden Markram — signed deals with the affiliates of their respective IPL paymasters, as did England's World Cup-winning captain Jos Buttler. Jofra Archer, who is scheduled to return to competitive cricket after 18 months on the sidelines, later did likewise as a wildcard.

In the short-term, a lucrative global broadcast deal means the SA20 is expected to turn a profit in its first season, the hope being that it will bring much-needed income and interest to cricket in South Africa, where morale and belief in the game is at a low, after a tumultuous period both on and off the field.

Cricket South Africa have bet the farm on the tournament's success, a country facing a major reduction in Test cricket, which has already forfeited an ODI series against Australia to make room for the league, banking on domestic T20 to fund its future.