Preity Zinta. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
Preity Zinta. Picture: GALLO IMAGES

"It’s very exciting to be here in Stellenbosch‚" Preity Zinta said in Paarl on Wednesday.

Her challenges with the local geography aside‚ the movie star cum T20 franchise mogul had done her homework.

"I had to write down ‘Stellenbosch’ five times so I didn’t misspell it‚" she said.

"During the last IPL [Indian Premier League], I learnt to say ‘baie dankie’."

At which point a reporter from an Afrikaans-language newspaper, who was also at a media conference announcing that the team formerly known as the Stellenbosch Monarchs will be the Stellenbosch Kings in the inaugural edition of the T20 Global League (T20GL) in November and December — shut his notebook.

"I’ve got my story‚" he said.

How had the Bollywood actor‚ who already owns Punjab Kings XI‚ come to be the knight in shining armour who rode to the rescue of the Stellenbosch franchise when the originally announced owner‚ Brimstone Investments‚ pulled out?

Zinta said she bumped into Cricket SA CEO Haroon Lorgat in a hotel in Dubai "and that was pretty much it. It was an overnight decision."

Brimstone was one of only two South African owners among the eight originally announced.

But cricket is moving from a game that runs on international rivalries to a business built around a handful of T20 leagues spread across the world.

"The way the format is and the way leagues are structured‚ I think in the near future you are going to see league cricket take over in some ways‚" Zinta said.

"The country sport is there and it’s important‚ but the league takes over at some point. If you look at the viewership patterns and the analytics‚ people today have shorter attention spans," she said.

"So, I do think this is going to grow. Ten years from now, we will have this conversation. [T20GL] will definitely change the whole landscape of cricket in this country."

Zinta’s mind was made up by her initial experience of the IPL: "A lot of people said: ‘Why are you getting into it? Cricket is already the No1 sport in the country. It’s so saturated. There’s no growth’.

"And I said: ‘It’s No1, but I don’t watch it’. Which means the women don’t watch it‚ the families don’t watch it. Just the hardcore cricket fans watch it."

She sketched what would be a dystopian nightmare for anyone who thinks of cricket as merely an aspect of a life lived well. "Part of our campaign when we were building the IPL brand was that we didn’t want the remote control to be shared in the house‚" Zinta said.

"We don’t want the mother to say: ‘I want to see my show’. We don’t want the grandfather to say: ‘Put on the cricket’. We don’t want somebody else to say: ‘I want to watch the news’."

But, while the T20GL has Zinta‚ lights and action‚ it still does not have cameras.

Less than two months before the first ball is scheduled to be bowled‚ the broadcaster has yet to be named.

"In SA, we’re in the situation where there’s one pretty strong broadcaster — you can guess as good as I can who we’re talking to‚" Lorgat said when asked if the broadcaster would be SuperSport. "I could have sold these broadcast rights 12 months ago‚ and I can tell you what Preity has done in the last week has pumped up what we’re expecting ourselves."

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