Updated: Feb 2
The league phase of the Betway SA20 is more than 70 per cent complete as the new domestic tournament goes on pause for the imminent ODI series between South Africa and England.
The six teams in SA20, each owned by franchises of the Indian Premier League (IPL), have played seven or eight of their ten matches in the league phase.
Delhi Capitals (GMR Group & JSW Group) landed in Pretoria, being the administrative capital of South Africa, while four-time IPL winners Chennai Super Kings (India Cements) are affiliated with Johannesburg.
Five-time IPL champions Mumbai Indians (Reliance Industries Ltd) established MI Cape Town, meanwhile the Paarl Royals are named after Rajasthan Royals.
The Durban-based team is owned by the Lucknow Super Giants (RPSG Group), and the Sunrisers Hyderabad (SUN Group) are partnered with the Eastern Cape province.
SA20 league commissioner, Graeme Smith has evidently put in commendable efforts towards rejuvenating domestic T20 cricket in South Africa following a calamitous few years for its governing body, Cricket South Africa (CSA), both on and off the field.
Smith, a former Proteas captain and ex-Director of Cricket at CSA, appears to have pulled out all the stops to produce a successful event for what is the inaugural edition of the competition.
The Covid-19 pandemic aside, domestic cricket in SA had been relatively underwhelming and unappealing for several years. One of the aims of this new league is to serve as a platform for young and up-and-coming cricketers to gain exposure and potentially enter the fray for a national team call-up in the short to medium term.
Five out of six of the team captains are currently, or were previously, seasoned members of the Proteas squad with Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, Aidan Markram, David Miller and Wayne Parnell each calling the shots within their respective franchises.
MI Cape Town are the only team without a local captain, with Afghanistan spin bowler Rashid Khan leading the charges owned by the Mumbai Indians.
MICT boast a sizeable contingent of overseas players with England internationals Jofra Archer, Sam Curran, Liam Livingstone, and Olly Stone all part of the setup for the team based at Newlands. Over and above their wealth of overseas talent, the Cape Town outfit also have Kagiso Rabada, Rassie van der Dussen and George Linde in their ranks.
Several other internationals have graced the SA20, notably a handful from the West Indies. Jason Holder, Kyle Mayers and Keemo Paul are all teammates at Durban's Super Giants, meanwhile Alzaari Joseph and Romario Shepherd are with the Joburg Super Kings.
England's trio of Adil Rashid, Phil Salt and Will Jacks are joined at the Pretoria Capitals by New Zealand all-rounder Jimmy Neesham. Sunrisers Eastern Cape also boast three Englishmen in Jordan Cox, Adam Rossington and Brydon Carse.
The success of the inaugural SA20 may lure a wider array of players from abroad for future editions of the tournament.
As mentioned, the tournament is also integral to the development of junior players looking to make a big break on the international scene. An example, Dewald Brevis has scored 181 runs in seven innings and only seven players have accrued more runs than the 19-year-old.
Nicknamed 'Baby AB', Brevis missed out on selection for the upcoming ODI series versus England, with the selection panel suggesting they would prefer to introduce the teenager via the T20I format.
Tristan Stubbs (formerly of Grey High School) was the most expensive player in the pre-tournament auction which took place in September last year. The 22-year-old batsman was purchased by Sunrisers Eastern Cape for a whopping R9million (approximately $525,000 USD).
JSK invested R5,5m (~$325k) in all-rounder Donavon Ferreira, with the 24-year-old an alum of Pretoria Boys High School. Pretoria Capitals won the race for Rilee Rossouw, who was bought for a price in the region of R7m (~$400k).
Although MICT are currently second bottom of the standings, batsmen Ryan Rickelton (St Stithians College) and Grant Roelofsen (King Edward VII School) have come to the party with both men bidding for a maiden [one-day] international cap. Roelofsen has scored 159 runs in six innings, including two half-Centuries, while Rickelton (146 runs) has twice fallen agonisingly short of raising a fifty.
Marco Jansen has been a mainstay for SEC, while his twin brother Duan has featured less prominently for MICT. Marco has contributed on all fronts at the SA20, taking five wickets on top of an impressive 158 runs with the bat.
Jansen was named ICC Emerging Men's Player of the Year after the 22-year-old took 39 wickets and hit 234 runs on the international stage in 2022.
A handful of other young bowlers are looking to follow in the footsteps of Jansen and earn a call-up to the Proteas setup in the future. Gerald Coetzee (St Andrew's) has claimed 11 wickets across five games with JSK, at the expense of 125 runs, meanwhile Eathan Bosch (Hilton College) has collected nine wickets for 163 runs with Pretoria Capitals.
The Proteas one-day team is braced for a new era as coach Rob Walter officially takes the reins from February 1, the day of the third and final ODI with England.
The series begins on Friday, January 27, in Bloemfontein with the second ODI at the same venue on Sunday. The third and final instalment comes from Kimberley on Wednesday. Thereafter, the SA20 resumes the following day.
Walter was recently announced as Proteas head coach for the white-ball format, while Shukri Conrad has been appointed in charge of the Test side.
Not only has the SA20 attracted international talent on the field of play, there has also been an all-star lineup on commentary with the likes of Mark Nicholas, Mpumelelo Mbangwa, Kevin Pietersen, Darren Sammy and AB de Villiers providing expert coverage and analysis of SA's explosive new league.
The tournament got underway on January 10 as a sold-out Newlands played host to the opening contest between MI Cape Town and Paarl Royals. From the get-go, matches have been mostly sold-out if not almost filled to the brim. Prior to this, it had truly been a while since there was last as much excitement about local T20 cricket in SA.
The competition's primary sponsor, Betway, is at the forefront of the 'Catch 2 Million' initiative which provides matchgoers with a chance to win a share of R2 million for catching a six with one hand. Up until this point, seven spectators are in the pot for the mega cash prize.
Tickets for the final, due to take place on February 11 in Johannesburg, were sold out more than three weeks in advance.
Pretoria Capitals are leading the way after their five victories and three bonus points. Sunrisers Eastern Cape and the Paarl Royals trail by six points, with JSK a further point behind.
Ex-Protea and current Netherlands international Roelof van der Merwe has taken the most wickets thus far, with 14 in six matches for the Sunrisers Eastern Cape. The 38-year-old picked up six scalps for just 20 runs against Durban's Super Giants. Proteas bowlers Anrich Nortje and Bjorn Fortuin have claimed 13 wickets apiece.
Jos Buttler has hit more runs (285) than any other player in the SA20 and nobody has scored more fifties than the England opening batsman (3). Buttler has recorded the most fours at the tournament (31) while countryman Will Jacks (Pretoria Capitals) has smacked the most sixes (19). Aged 23, Jacks has recorded 270 runs in the tournament.
JSK skipper Faf du Plessis rocketed up the leaderboard following an unbeaten 113* in their last game against Durban's Super Giants. Du Plessis brought up his Century off 54 deliveries, becoming the first player to raise triple figures in South Africa's new domestic cricket league.
Du Plessis, 39, hit eight maximums on Tuesday, the most in an innings by any player in the league up until now.