Cricket: How Healthy Is the Sport in South Africa?
As the number one Test team, South Africa have got plenty to live up to over the coming years.
They have always been quite good at Test cricket, but they are arguably in the best form they've ever been. To stay there for some time will be their biggest challenge.
Luckily, the sport is reasonably healthy in the country. Here's why.
The First-Class Structure Is Competitive
Although South Africa adopted the franchise route a few years ago, the provinces still remain and still compete with each other. This means that players who are on the fringes of franchise cricket still get a chance to test their skills. And, even if the franchises only play a handful of games over the summer, some players opt for extra game time with the provinces. The franchises themselves foster a competitive environment where players have to earn their places in the side.
Watching Test Cricket Is Encouraged
Although it is free to attend a first-class game in South Africa, matches are only ever attended by two men and a pigeon. Test cricket, though, is very accessible. It is dirt cheap to go watch a Test, with prices starting as low as R50 (£3.50). There isn't really a cricket-watching culture in South Africa like in England, but when games are played over the holidays, people turn out in their masses. For that price, they'd be foolish not to.
The Longer Format Is Not Neglected
Despite the short formats being far more lucrative, Cricket South Africa try not to truncate a series in favour of shorter formats. In fact, the summer series against India was initially rumoured to have had an extra Test added to it. Although the Future Tours Programme suggested seven ODIs and three Tests, CSA were hoping for an extra Test. That didn't happen and the Board of Control for Cricket in India has voiced its concern over the matter. CSA confirmed to Bleacher Report that they had followed proper procedure before releasing the fixtures.
The Younger Generation Has Promise
With former bowling coach Vincent Barnes in charge of the High Performance Centre and the South African A team, the future is in good hands. CSA has made sure that those who show promise are groomed at the HPC and get some solid time with the A-team in the "off season." One of South Africa's greatest assets has been the ease with which youngsters can make their debuts. While the big stars are still around, youngsters can "go out there and just have fun" instead of worrying about how they perform. The lesson that Australia have learned the hard way is that, as soon as there is a flurry of retirements, youngsters are under some serious pressure to step up and perform. For now, South Africa are making that transition easy.
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