It was no premier league and it certainly was not a T20 Global League but the Ram Slam T20 Challenge, which took place with the availability of all national players, was well received by the South African cricket public. Titans, a franchise loaded with internationals, dominated the competition and were the eventual and expected winners. So while there was little in the way of nailbiters, there were some key takeaways, especially if CSA hopes to revive the idea of a league next summer.
Internationals make everything OK
South Africa's domestic 20-over competition was previously played as a low-profile event, with the national team on duty elsewhere, and only a handful of foreign players and the short-sightedness of that approach has been shown-up now. With internationals available and no other cricket involving South African players simultaneously underway, attention could be solely focused on this event. There was an increase in both television audience and stadium attendances. Matches featuring Titans and Cape Cobras, the franchises loaded with big-name players, were particularly well received, with SuperSport Park reporting a 33% increase in feet through the gate.
The message to the suits is obvious: a T20 tournament needs gravitas and it can only get that through the presence of established internationals. Why it has taken CSA this long to realise this undeniable truth is anyone's guess but now that they have proof, they cannot go back to the dour domestic tournament they once had. If the T20 Global League can't happen - and there are still so many questions over its financial viability - then CSA will have to look at ways to turn the franchise T20 into something resembling a league. That may mean clearing the calendar, as was forced on them this time, writing it into national players' contracts - that they need to make themselves available - and launching a marketing campaign. Those are things the organisation needs to start working on now.
Mind the gap
At the same time, the strong performances by internationals only made the lack of the same by domestic players more glaring. Apart from Sarel Erwee's century in the opening round, no other player - who has not been involved with the national team - made any significant mark on the tournament. Recently, concerns about the gap between South Africa's domestic set-up and the international stage have increased and a tournament like this only shows why. There is no one banging down the door, which will cause problems for the national side in future. Solving this problem isn't easy but the mingling of more internationals in domestic competition could be a start. The average franchise player needs to see how an international prepares and plays so he can emulate that. Time will tell if any of the current crop does.
Parnell in danger of wasting away?
All of the above said, there is one player who floats between the international and domestic scenes and routinely fails to set either alight. While it's unusual to name individuals in a competition review, Wayne Parnell cannot escape this time. He played just two matches for Cobras, scored 35 runs and conceded 56 for none, before being dropped. Given the uneven distribution of internationals across franchises, CSA made allowances for players to be loaned to other teams in this tournament and Parnell returned home to Warriors for two matches but didn't fare any better. He scored just five runs in two innings, including 4 in the semi-final, and bowled three overs for 31 runs in the two matches. Parnell's inconsistency can no longer be brushed off because he offers an "x-factor," because he doesn't. Injury and irregular game time may be one reason for his inability to regularly play at his peak and, while there is nothing that can be done about the former, an obvious solution would be for the selectors to demand that Parnell play all 10 domestic one-day cup games before they consider him for the limited-overs' series against India or any more international caps.
Nothing lasts forever...except warm Durban rain
A country with one region experiencing its worst drought in more than a century should not complain about rain but while the Western Cape pleads for a few drops, Durban has had the bulk of them and it affected this competition significantly. Four of Dolphins five home games and one of their away fixtures were rained out, which meant they only played five of their 10 league matches. They won only three but the shared points from their washouts meant they qualified to host a home semi-final.
As luck would have it, the semi-final was also abandoned due to rain and so, Dolphins advanced to the final. That they were probably not the most deserving opposition for Titans was clear in the manner in which Dolphins were drowned in Centurion. Cobras, who lost out on hosting a knockout game and were then prevented from playing in the semi-final because of rain, were spitting mad but only had themselves to blame for their poor start to the tournament. Short of building a roof over Kingsmead, there's not much that can be done, but CSA should give serious consideration to scheduling - maybe fewer home matches for Dolphins in November/December and more in February/March once the rains have cleared - and a reserve day for playoffs.
Where's the Lions' roar?
The Johannesburg-based franchise was bossing domestic tournaments a couple of seasons ago but has lost its bite. Lions have been ravaged by player losses - Quinton de Kock and Chris Morris left them for Titans, Temba Bavuma for Cobras - and though they continue to produce players of international quality like Dwaine Pretorius and Wiaan Mulder, something seems amiss. Their coach Geoffrey Toyana was in line for the national job but did not get it and was also overlooked for the assistant role in favour of Warriors' Malibongwe Maketa. Toyana is the kind of person who would be able to contain disappointment from spilling over onto the players but lack of motivation may be affecting everyone. Lions remain home to some of the most exciting players in the set-up but need to start putting results on the board before big questions get asked.
What next for Warriors?
Last season's finalists were unable to give their coach, Maketa, a farewell gift after they lost to Titans in the knockout but they made sure they competed, despite fewer resources than other franchises. Warriors have no national players on their books and are still searching for a sponsor and now they will also have to look for a new coach. Maketa will join the national staff this week, leaving Rivash Gobind to mind Warriors before they find a replacement. Russell Domingo is already occupied with the South African A side where he is "very happy" but the franchise would benefit from the experience of a coach like former national assistant Adrian Birrell, who is from the region. There is no word on Warriors' way forward but they represent an important region of the country - the Eastern-Cape is the heartland of black African cricket - and it is crucial they are managed well.