Just one result amid 14 draws in the first half of the Sunfoil Series, the postponement of the inaugural T20 Global League and a rather underwhelming response to the rescheduling of the Ram Slam T20 Challenge has placed substantial pressure on the Momentum One Day Cup.
While the T20 Challenge was afforded the participation of almost all the Proteas players, the One Day Cup will coincide with India’s visit for three Tests, six ODIs and three T20Is, leaving domestic cricket’s bench strength to perform in the absence of Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and company.
Far more attractive than four-day competition, but unable to squeeze in the double-headers and entertainment enjoyed by T20 cricket, the One Day Cup must again attempt to remain relevance in the intermediate format of the game.
The odds, indeed, are stacked against a tournament that ostensibly holds prime real estate in the South African domestic cricket calendar, but still finds itself fighting for appeal among a public increasingly incentivised to look elsewhere.
Franchise stars like Jon-Jon Smuts and Shadley van Schalkwyk, of course, vouch for its importance. Smuts is seemingly out of the Proteas’ T20I plans for the foreseeable future, but will effectively demand ODI squad – if not first-choice playing XI – selection if able to replicate his Momentum One Day Cup numbers from last season.
The hard-hitting right-hander was second only to the prolific Henry Davids in the 2016-17 tournament’s run-scoring chart, having amassed 581 in 12 innings at a formidable average of 52.81. At 29 years old, Smuts offers far more future value on than the 37-year-old Davids.
Van Schalkwyk, meanwhile, topped the wicket-taking ranks alongside Titans fast bowler Junior Dala and Dolphins veteran Robbie Frylinck. While Frylinck’s opportunity at international level came a year too late against Bangladesh recently, Dala’s chance will come soon enough, but van Schalkwyk can forge ahead of the contenders with another consistent One Day Cup campaign.
Unlikely drafts for Australia’s Big Bash League, Indian Premier League, Caribbean Premier League or England’s T20 Blast, the Momentum One Day Cup, too, will be a significant period for Smuts and van Schalkwyk to increase their standing within the Durban Qalanders and Nelson Mandela Bay Stars’ squad, respectively. Similar circumstances face Knights and Benoni Zalmi spinner Eddie Leie, Titans and Cape Town Knight Riders seamer Malusi Siboto, Warriors and Joburg Giants batsman Christiaan Jonker and others as well.
Off the field, the commercial implications of the One Day Cup – for the tournament itself and the six franchises involved – are vital. Domestic competitions are never going to turn as much profit as international tours and the hefty loss of revenue declared by Cricket South Africa a couple of months ago must be viewed in the context of a four-year cycle and the doomed 2017 T20 Global League. But Momentum – like Ram Slam for the T20 Challenge, Sunfoil on the first-class circuit and other stakeholders – must insist on bang for their buck.
The fans, in the interim, can hang on in hope for the fragile eventuality of the 2019 T20 Global League.