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A largely successful first season for the SA20 has increased expectations ahead of Wednesday’s start of season 2, with the tournament hoping to further stamp its mark, while organisers are also wary of competition in the Middle East. 

The 2024 tournament starts at St George’s Park where 2023’s champions Sunrisers Eastern Cape face the Joburg Super Kings (start 5.30pm). 

As was the case last year, the league’s commissioner, Graeme Smith, is hopeful it will continue the revival of “cricket fandom”, which continues to be a challenge for the sport after years of administrative drama at Cricket SA and the national men’s team’s indifferent form.

“It remains about reviving that excitement for fans, but also we want to bring a new audience to cricket,” Smith said.

“In 10 years’ time, the kids who are going now are hopefully going to be superfans of SA cricket, so we are definitely focused on growing the audience properly, the demographics, the 18 to 25 age group, bringing them into the ground.”

The new audiences are one of the biggest challenges the SA20 faces this season. While there continues to be cynicism about cricket in general in SA, the sustainability of the sport is intertwined with its ability to attract new fans. It is a challenge sport around the world faces, especially for those aged 20 and under. 

While Smith has the goal of making SA20 the second-biggest T20 League after the IPL (Indian Premier League), it faces major competition from the International League T20 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is played at about the same time.

“Our focus is different to ILT20. We are building this for SA cricket,” said Smith.

“We have the stadiums, the fan base, we believe SA20 will not only benefit SA cricket commercially, but also the spirit of it. I truly believe we will expose players who can play across formats into the future. You will unearth players like the IPL does, who can move and if good enough, can play a Test match or an ODI. I believe we are here to strengthen SA cricket.”

The ILT20 is heavily reliant on players beyond the borders of the UAE, and while SA20 has strict rules regarding the number of internationals in squads and starting teams, the ILT20 can have up to nine “foreign” players in a starting team. 

It attracted a huge TV audience in India in 2023 — bigger than SA20 — owing to it being broadcast at a convenient time for Indian audiences.

“Knowing they are there has driven us to be better and stronger and put up a product that hopefully the fans will support. The pictures streaming into the rest of the world of full stadiums, people having a good time and incredible cricket moments, sets us apart. We want the cricket to be spoken about, not for it to look like an exhibition-style game,” said Smith.

The SA20 has lined up TV broadcasters in India, the UK, Pakistan, Australia and the US as a means to showcase the tournament around the world. 

For all the activation work in stadiums and a panel of commentators packed with international experience, it is the action on the field that is central to how the tournament will be perceived.

“When I look at the teams, I think they look stronger across the board compared to last season,” Smith said.

“The thing is, recalling last year, was how fast fans reacted to their home teams. People wearing orange in PE [Gqeberha], Durban embracing DSG. We thought the brand awareness might take a few years. The teams have activated well, got to know the players really well and the public got behind their teams. Hopefully, in the first week, I look forward to seeing that again.”

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