South Africa’s new domestic structure: 2 tiers, 15 first-class teams, 205 contracted players

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Six-team franchise system to be dissolved as 75 cricketers set to lose contracts

Seventy-five South African domestic cricketers will lose their contracts in a restructuring that will dissolve the six-team franchise system which has been in place for 17 seasons. A new set-up, which will consist of 15 first-class teams playing in two tiers, will come into place in the summer of 2021-22

CSA’s interim board and members’ council – the body made up of the 14 provincial presidents, which is the highest decision-making authority in the country’s game – endorsed the changes on the recommendation of former ICC CEO David Richardson’s task team and after consultation with the South African Cricketers’ Association (SACA). The new system will consist of two divisions, split 8-7, and will include promotion and relegation. The divisional split will be decided by a bidding system.

Both divisions will play four-day and one-day cricket and there will be two distinct T20 tournaments. The Division 1 teams will compete in the Mzansi Super League (MSL) and in a knockout T20 competition with the Division 2 teams, who will not have a 20-over competition of their own. Players from Division 2 teams could get picked for the MSL via a player draft.

In total, the new system will see 205 players contracted (16 to each of the eight Division 1 teams and 11 to each of the seven Division 2 teams), 75 fewer than the current 280, across six franchises and 13 semi-professional provincial teams.

However, CSA believes the new system will provide more opportunities for players to compete at the level just below international cricket and in turn, provide the national selectors with a wider talent pool to pick from.

“This new structure will better serve our transformation goals which includes providing increased playing opportunities at the highest domestic level,” Judge Zak Yacoob, interim board chair person, said.

Unlike the previous attempt to restructure the domestic game in 2019, which was opposed by legal action from SACA, the players’ association were involved in all discussions pertaining to this one and are largely satisfied with the process.

“It is CSA’s prerogative and right to change the system. They consulted with us and the consultation process was comprehensive. We looked across 10 difference models,” Andrew Breetzke, SACA CEO, told ESPNcricinfo. “Seventy-five players losing their contracts is a concern but for the past year, we’ve been informing players that we believe the system will get smaller, for a variety of reasons. Covid-19 is one of them and the restructure is another.”

So far, CSA has faced no job or pay cuts in the face of the pandemic but are forecasting major losses in the current four-year cycle. Under former CEO Thabang Moroe, CSA predicted they would be R654 million (US$44.6 million) in the red, while SACA put that figure closer to R1 billion (US$68.2 million).

With the broadcast deal with SuperSport set to be negotiated before April, several other television rights agreements in place and sponsors changing hands, it is unclear what CSA’s long-term financial picture might look like. However, it is understood that CSA is bracing for a tough period and cutting costs where they can.

The next step in the process will be to finalise the Memorandum of Understanding with SACA to ensure that players contracted under the current system have clarity on whether they will be part of the new set-up. The current player contracts end on April 30, which leaves CSA with just under five months to get everything in place for the new-look domestic season.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent

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