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“Chilled” cricket matches draw us out of lockdown mode

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The new SA20 cricket tournament and other live sport has enticed many of us out of “lockdown mode” into the magic of going to the games.

“South African cricket hasn’t had too many positives in the past while,” says cricket enthusiast Josh Margolis. “When I saw the SA20, the way it was marketed, and the support it got around the country, it inspired that little bit of hope in me. It’s the positivity that South African cricket needed, so I had to play my part and support it.”

Margolis and fellow Johannesburg cricket fan, Ilan Carno, were two of the spectators in an almost capacity crowd at the 34 000-seater Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg on 24 January to witness the Faf du Plessis-captained Joburg Super Kings take on the Quinton de Kock-led Durban Super Giants.

Margolis and Carno compare the atmosphere at the game to an international match. “It was electric,” Margolis says. “In domestic cricket, we never really managed to get anything comparable to it probably since the early 1990s.”

“It was fun,” Carno says. “The Joburg team was well supported. A lot of people were actively watching and enjoying the cricket.”

Oren Kalmek and about 64 other Yeshiva College Boys High School students and five rabbis from the school were also in attendance. “There are two things that Yeshiva College boys love – sport and a good vibe,” Kalmek says. “When they come together, it’s an unmissable opportunity. Tuesday’s game was the best atmosphere I’ve ever experienced.”

Du Plessis says in his recently released book that he thrives on big occasions, and he duly scored a brilliant century, the first in the tournament’s history. He took a special liking to his brother-in-law, Hardus Viljoen’s, bowling to guide the Super Kings to an eight-wicket win, surpassing the Super Giants’ total of 178 with five balls remaining.

The SA20, which started on 10 January and will conclude with the final on 11 February at an already-sold-out Wanderers, has been attracting a large number of spectators. This is in contrast to its fellow South African T20 tournament, the Mzansi Super League, which took place in 2018 and 2019, and most domestic cricket games in South Africa.

Carno, who admits that he had never even heard of the latter tournament, which was broadcast on the SABC as opposed to the SA20 being televised on SuperSport, says the former has been marketed effectively.

The timing was also right. “The COVID-19 pandemic obviously threw a spanner in the works, and that’s also why people are so excited about the SA20,” he says.

“After two-and-a-half years of no live sporting events, having an opportunity to see some of the world’s best cricketers at an affordable price was an unmissable opportunity,” Kalmek says.

Margolis says fans have also thronged stadiums to witness top international players. Taking part in the tournament are the likes of England limited-overs captain Jos Buttler, top International Cricket Council T20 ranked bowler Rashid Khan, and Sam Curran, who recently became the highest-ever purchase at an Indian Premier League (IPL) auction.

But the SA20’s greatest appeal may lie in the fact that all six participating teams are backed by owners of IPL teams, Carno says. For example, the Joburg Super Kings is owned by India Cements, the owners of four-time IPL winners, the Chennai Super Kings. “The IPL is an international brand. When it came here in 2009, it was a massive success, so the SA20 is maybe a continuation of it. People have enjoyed it.”

Wanderers became an extravaganza of music, fireworks, “DanceCam”, and “KissCam”, in which random spectators are shown on the big screen and have either to dance or kiss the person they’re sitting next to.

“This league could be the saviour of South African cricket,” Margolis says. “Any cricket fan would want to be involved in it and support it.”

Margolis usually attends all the international games at the Wanderers. “I’ve also travelled around the world watching South Africa play at various grounds. Domestic cricket has never really been attractive to cricket fans, but I think the SA20 has changed that.”

Carno, meanwhile, last went to a cricket match before the pandemic. “In my teenage and young adult years, I went a lot, but I kind of fell out of love with the sport and, I guess, South Africa just consistently underperformed. The only games that were really good to see were the international ones.”

Carno has been a spectator at soccer and rugby games in South Africa, but says attending cricket is “more chilled. You can watch a few overs here and then, chat, and have a laugh with your mates.”

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