Mon, 21 Sep 2020

SA's T20 league: AB holds it all together

17 Oct 2018, 06:37 GMT+10

Cape Town - What's bigger than a marquee in outdoor canvas?

The dictionary definition, after all, is "large tent" so it is difficult to get any ... well, higher.

But in South African Twenty20 cricket parlance, it is tempting to shout "AB de Villiers" as the answer, in the context of common use of the term "marquee players" for totem figures in the various leagues that have sprouted around the planet.

Albeit now retired from international cricket, De Villiers has been categorised as a "Proteas player" among the six domestic marquee customers for evenly-scattered usage across the half-dozen sides in the newly-hatched Mzansi Super League, South Africa's controversial, problem-plagued and late-entry foray into the concept.

A further half-dozen overseas marquee players were confirmed when the tournament - although only a month away - finally grew some legs with various major structural announcements by Cricket South Africa in Johannesburg on Monday.

Team names have now been provided, leaving marketing and promotions people with the steep task of piling on the fanfare, against a ticking clock to event launch day on November 16, to seduce the South African public to the league's charms (or rather possible charms, given the damaging financial, "political" and television-rights hullabaloo that has already marked the boulder-strewn run-up over the past year or more).

Whatever the rights or wrongs of the team brandings, they generally fit the worldwide hallmark of such franchises; at least there can hardly be any doubting the point-of-difference, unmistakably city-based theme to all of them.

Although lagging behind by some seven years, which presents significant challenges in its own way, the Mzansi Super League - priding itself in Africanness? - embraces sides clearly modelled in a naming sense on Australian counterparts, such as Sydney Thunder and Hobart Hurricanes, in the successful Big Bash League.

"Paarl Rocks" is a reasonably strange confection out Boland way, somehow suggesting a devotion to Fred Flintstone and shortcomings in the soft-hands department, but the first bit of the title, let's face it, probably matters a whole lot more in getting local passions stirred.

Considering the upheaval that was the scrapping of the then Haroon Lorgat-engineered T20 Global League last season -- including associated frittering away of several major overseas names who will not resurface on our shores this time around -- CSA haven't done too badly, when all is said and done, when it comes to the six international marquee figures now revealed.

Chris Gayle is long in the tooth at 39 and must have a formidable rail of gaudy cricket shirts in his cupboard, but he and Dwayne Bravo (also "in") have been iconic Caribbean elements for several years in leagues of this kind across the world.

Eoin Morgan -- still England's ODI captain, it is perhaps worth reminding -- is also much-travelled yet anything but a humdrum component on the T20 trail considering his mountain of runs assembled in an array of enterprising ways.

Some eyebrows may have been raised when Dawid Malan, English-born but of South African parentage, catapulted into the "top six" elite.

At first thought, it may have seemed pretty close to a scraping-the-barrel hallmark (some sort of poor man's Kevin Pietersen, with respect?) ... but then a glance at his T20 international stats proves a significant fear-quelling.

Malan, 31, has been a relatively late addition to England's T20 arsenal, but in his five internationals so far sports a buxom 250 runs at 50.00, including a no-messing strike rate of 150.60.

Included is his fiery debut against the Proteas at Cardiff last year, when he smoked 78 runs off 44 balls -- with 60 of them in boundaries.

So perhaps, sometimes, the more traditionalist-inclined souls like yours truly should just remember to rein in a wee bit any cynicism that might bubble to the fore in assessing the gravitas levels of this and other global T20 circuses.

Already, though, certain perhaps debilitating snags have surfaced.

It has been confirmed that most of the marquee overseas players will take part in well less than 50 percent of the event because of a clash with prior commitments, while the Newlands-based franchise, the Cape Town Blitz - um, just asking, how often does lightning strike in that city? - have been rather haymakered by the news on Tuesday that hometown poster-boy JP Duminy will miss year one of the league entirely due to shoulder surgery.

Which brings me, with even greater conviction, to my overpowering belief that De Villiers is going to be the critical glue that binds the Mzansi Super League 2018.

He remains, in broadest cricketing sense, among the top two or three premier power-batting drawcards in the game (certainly if you aren't going to have your Virat Kohli, you want your De Villiers very nearby indeed for sweetest possible compensation).

At 34, he stops well short of being a rank has-been and the very fact that he hasn't played any significant cricket since May 19 in the Indian Premier League will only crank up further the appetite of adoring South Africans nationwide - never mind his specific, predictable attachment to the Tshwane Spartans on his residential doorstep - to see him in trademark up-tempo action again.

Yes, quite the last thing CSA needs is for Abraham Benjamin de Villiers to pull up lame, and for a long time, in the infant stages of this tournament.

For all the hype about the supposed necessity of an "international-flavoured" T20 event finally occurring in South Africa, there is a delicious irony in the fact that, at the end of the day, its most valuable participant was born in Bela-Bela and educated at "Affies" ...

*Follow our chief writer: @RobHouwing

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