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Nkwe defends schedule as CSA ignore calls for more red-ball cricket 0

Posted on January 31, 2024 by Ken

Calls for increased red-ball cricket for the country’s domestic players have been ignored by Cricket South Africa in the fixtures for the forthcoming season, but director of cricket Enoch Nkwe has defended the schedule, saying there will be opportunity for more four-day cricket when there is more sponsorship for the format.

The coming season will once again see just a single round of matches in the CSA 4-Day Domestic competition, plus a five-day final. The majority of the competition will be played between November 4 and December 30, with two rounds in February and the final scheduled to begin on February 28. A shortage of long format cricket has been blamed for the Proteas’ poor results in recent years, especially in Test cricket.

The SA A team will also play three four-day matches against West Indies A between November 21 and December 8. But the programme will then be overwhelmed by T20 cricket, with not only the SA20 in January but then a T20 Challenge for more than seven weeks from March 8 to April 28. Most of the country’s top players will be unavailable for this tournament, with the IPL starting on March 29. And, at the end of a long season and so close to the SA20, there is bound to be an element of ‘cricket fatigue’ amongst fans and players.

“We did look at a double-round first-class competition, but we decided to put more investment into the SA A team,” Nkwe told Rapport. “Making a very strong Test side is a priority, and we can expose a pool of players in the SA A side, allowing Test coach Shukri Conrad to see them up close.

“We spend close to R300 million on all aspects of domestic cricket, on and off the field, and our members [unions] add to that as well. With more investment in four-day cricket, we will be able to have a double round, but it costs more because of the longer accommodation. We’re still looking to engage the corporate world on assisting with that,” Nkwe said.

In terms of a seven-week T20 competition shorn of its top players at the end of the season being a hard sale, Nkwe said it was an opportunity for fringe players to put forward their credentials.

“Ideally we’d like our T20 to be played before the SA20, but it’s a challenge fitting it all in. It all depends on what is more the priority in each season. This season we are starting with the One-Day Cup this month because of the 50-over World Cup beginning in October. Then with the next T20 World Cup in June 2024, we want to play a lot of T20 leading up to that.

“The T20 Challenge will test our system, it’s what we’re looking to implement – to tap into our depth by providing opportunities and growing it. I’ve seen really good T20 players in Division II and hopefully the competition will bring a different energy.

“Yes, there will be pressure at the back end of the season, but we had a long season in 2019, that was a lot more hectic. Managing players has become our number one priority, and also keeping our domestic cricket strong. But the ICC schedule is a challenge, making us juggle things. It will be red-ball cricket that is the priority in some seasons,” Nkwe said.

The former Proteas coach said they would also be encouraging the teams to transact loan agreements to ensure a high standard of play in domestic cricket.

“The loan system has always been there – you’ll remember I brought Lizaad Williams to the Lions in the 2019 T20 Challenge – it’s just not being used. But we’ll be encouraging the coaches to work together because we can’t have our best talent not playing.

“We’ve hit the reset button for domestic cricket because we recognise that it adds a lot of value, it is impactful in the way it feeds into the Proteas. We’ve introduced a five-day final to mirror what the World Test Championship does, SA A playing the middle of the season is a big investment and we’ve reinstated the Colts competition. It’s about a strong pathway moving forward and we are slowly all getting aligned,” Nkwe said.

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