THE RAM Slam T20 Challenge competition was launched at the end of the 2003/04 season to introduce the newest format of the game to the South African cricketing public and to launch the regional franchise concept at the same time.
That it has exceeded beyond even the wildest expectations on both counts is beyond dispute.
The franchise system has become the bedrock on which Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) strategy to become a leading player in the world is based. It has produced strength versus strength contests that compare favourably with the domestic competitions in Australia which are generally regarded as having the highest standard of play in the world.
This is borne out by the success of the South Africa A side and the Emerging Squad with the latter having regularly done extremely well in an Australian-based competition. More recently the best domestic teams from around the world have gone head to head in the Champions’ League and both the Nashua Cape Cobras and the Chevrolet Central Franchise gave as good as they got in the inaugural edition at the start of the 2009/10 season.
The RAM Slam T20 Challenge has become a runaway favourite with the public in South Africa as it has elsewhere in the world. It has become a cash cow both for the franchises and for the players themselves. As a result domestic attendances have started rising again and the franchises have also been able to cash in from having every game shown live on SuperSport’s television channels.
From an individual point of view the RAM Slam T20 Challenge provides a showcase for players outside CSA’s elite list of contracted players to gain Indian Premier League (IPL) contracts with the almost limitless riches that that competition offers.
The benefits indeed go far beyond the IPL and are to the benefit of South African cricket generally. Six weeks in the IPL can earn a player more than he would in an entire season of county cricket. This makes the Kolpak route less enticing because an IPL player does not give up his long-term objective of being qualified to play for his country.
It also means that after a six-week sojourn in India the player can come home and can spend the rest of the off-season recovering from niggling injuries, working on little aspects to improve his game with his franchise coach and being available for the off-season tours with the South Africa A, Emerging Squad and SA Academy tours.
At the end of the day it means that South Africa’s second tier of players can earn competitive salaries and embark on serious careers as professional cricketers.
One other aspect that the RAM Slam T20 Challenge has successfully addressed is that long-term Achilles’ heel that the Proteas have always had in major tournaments. They have always been able to advance comfortably through the pool stages and the Super Six and Super Eight rounds that follow. But their record at the knock-out stage does not bear comparison.
Some of the most cut-throat cricket that South Africa has encountered ever at domestic level takes place once the RAM Slam T20 Challenge reaches the semi-final stage.
Victory over the three possible legs means that a team automatically qualifies for the Champions’ League and that on its own ups the ante by a considerable amount. The 2008-09 edition produced the two most remarkable semi-finals in the history of South African domestic cricket with both games going not only to a third leg but then on to a sudden death ‘Super Over’ after both third legs had been tied.
In the seasons in which qualification for the Champions’ League has been at stake all six franchises have qualified once each for the international tournament. That statistic tells just how tense and tight the competition has become. It also says a lot about the depth that is gradually being built up through the franchise concept.
The Chevrolet Central Franchise, Nashua Titans and Nashua Mobile Cape Cobras have been the most successful squads in the seven seasons of RAM Slam T20 Challenge cricket with two titles each.
What the RAM Slam T20 Challenge has done more than anything else is to bring a new audience to cricket. It is as much an entertainment concept as a cricketing one and it has become one of the dominant forms of entertainment available in the South African summer.