CRICKET SOUTH AFRICA has had many important dates in its young history: the inaugural annual meeting on June 29, 1991…admission to the ICC on July 10 the same year…the first One-Day International on November 10 of the same year…the first Test match on April 18, 1992…the launch of the transformation charter on January 2, 1999.
Another stand-out date must be April 7, 2004, when the franchise system in domestic cricket was launched with the opening match of the inaugural T20 Domestic Series competition.
In a game as orthodox and conservative as cricket the change from 11 provincial teams competing for domestic honours to 6 regional franchises could almost be described as radical but in retrospect it can safely be said that the franchise system has provided the launching pad for South African cricket to be the international powerhouse it is today.
At the time of the launch the 2004 edition of the Mutual & Federal Cricket Annual commented as follows:
"The most important change in South African cricket since the formation of the United Cricket Board will be put to a thorough test in the coming season when professional domestic cricket is contested by 6 franchise teams.
"With the best talent concentrated in 6 teams, every match should be competitive and have an appeal to the public.
"One of the main reasons for introducing the franchise system was to improve the standard of play, thereby reducing the gap between domestic cricket and the international game, and the national selectors should get a much better idea of the relative merits of players when they see how they perform in a tougher environment."
There is little doubt that these views expressed by editor Colin Bryden have been more than born out.
The Australian domestic competition (also restricted to 6 teams on a strength versus strength basis) has long been regarded as the benchmark of domestic cricket around the world and England have gone down the same route by putting their 18 county sides into two divisions of 9 each.
The strength of South Africa’s domestic game has been well illustrated by the performances of CSA’s representatives in the recently launched Champions’ League and also by the manner in which South African players remain heavily in demand both for the Indian Premier League and the England County Championship.
Most importantly of all the franchise system has led to a much more consistent and reliable selection process not only at national level but with the South African A side and the SA Emerging Squad which have both built up proud records in the tournaments and series in which they have been involved.
The competitiveness of the franchise system is best illustrated by the manner in which the various titles have been spread around among the 6 squads. The Chevrolet Central franchise and the Nashua Titans have brought the trophies home the most often but the success that the Chevrolet Warriors enjoyed in winning two of the three domestic titles in the summer of 2009/10 means that all 6 franchises have won titles during the course of the 6 years that they have been competing.
What is particularly interesting is that all 6 franchises have over the past three years qualified for the Champions’ League.
The franchise system was originally introduced for a period of 3 years but it has been so successful that it has become a permanent part of the domestic cricket scene. The only question that needs to be asked is whether there is a need to increase the number of franchises over a period of time as has happened with the Indian Premier League.
Time will answer that one but in the mean time the franchise system will remain one of the most important pillars on which South Africa’s cricketing strength is built.