Cape Town – Cricket South Africa must be desperately wishing for improved attendances in the second edition of their controversial Mzansi Super League … but if anything, the opening round only seemed to hint at a declining trend when measured against gate patterns in the maiden tournament last summer.
Hardly helped by one of the quartet of kick-starting weekend fixtures – Durban Heat v Tshwane Spartans at the so often jinxed Kingsmead – being abandoned without a ball bowled, the turnstiles weren’t exactly working overtime countrywide.
That translates into an immediate concern when you consider that, on paper, the round should have had plenty going for it in marketability terms: a Friday night “north v south” fixture at the Wanderers between Jozi Stars, the defending champions, and 2018 runners-up the Cape Town Blitz, and then a Cape derby between the Paarl Rocks and Blitz at Boland Park just two days later.
But the Bullring tussle reportedly had little more than a paltry 1,000 pre-sold tickets in the lead-up, and if some 4,000-5,000 people eventually attended the match at a 28,000-capacity venue, that may even have been pushing it, based on television images. (Official gate figures were regularly provided on CSA’s media channels during last season’s MSL, but have seemed fairly elusive so far in 2019.)
Sunday’s all-Cape affair also seemed to lure fewer fans than watched many of the Paarl Rocks’ home fixtures last season, while the later, St George’s Park clash between the Nelson Mandela Bay Giants and Jozi Stars – who are quickly on the back foot this campaign with a 0/2 record – would have done well just to reach a four-figure attendance on a blustery, overcast day.
Perhaps an excuse for the Eastern Cape match was the fact that the World Cup-winning Springboks were in town parading the Webb Ellis Cup to adoring thousands on the streets of Port Elizabeth and environs, but the open-top bus had long rumbled away from the heart of the metropolis by the time the MSL fixture began.
After Monday’s closing Bok celebrations in Cape Town, a stronger sense of domestic sporting focus may switch to cricket, though pessimists might already be tempted to brand that wishful thinking considering the damaging, wide-ranging levels of crisis within the corridors of the country’s umbrella cricket body.
The next scheduled game, on Wednesday, at least sees Centurion – where SuperSport Park can draw decent crowds – enter the equation, with the AB de Villiers-fronted (though he is not earmarked to actually captain this year) Spartans entertaining the Giants.
Although retired from international duty, that region’s favourite son De Villiers also remains probably the strongest individual drawcard of the entire event, and there will be widespread hope that he gets a belated opportunity to take guard then, and also play one of his famously charismatic, rooftile-and window-threatening knocks.
The first round did labour a little through some of the relatively few genuinely marquee T20 global batting stars taking part in this season’s MSL failing to catch fire significantly.
Forty-year-old West Indian slugger Chris Gayle notched only 17 at the Wanderers and 18 at St George’s Park, while England’s CWC 2019-winning Jason Roy – 443 vital tournament runs then at 63.28 – was dismissed by Kagiso Rabada for a two-ball duck in PE on Sunday.
Early plusses from a Proteas perspective, with next October’s ICC T20 World Cup in mind, include the successive major innings by the Stars’ Reeza Hendricks (80 in Johannesburg, and 62 in Port Elizabeth); he was a debatable omission from SA’s badly botched CWC campaign.
There have also been good signs of menace so far from pacemen like Rabada, Dale Steyn, Anrich Nortje and Chris Morris.
Against the backdrop of the Blitz being bundled out for a dismal 84 at Paarl and succumbing by all of 86 runs, a couple of closer finishes soon would also, possibly, help to light a necessary firecracker beneath MSL 2019.
More than anything else, though, somehow getting significantly more bums on seats will be an urgent priority for CSA in the (uphill?) quest to make the MSL appear a winning, eventually healthy product.
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