The South African version of the IPL, the Mzansi Super League, finally started with a flourish as some of the biggest names in world cricket test their skills and aim to lift the inaugural title.
After failing to get off the ground last year, despite pre-tournament announcements and format, there were many sceptics around the world, including pundits, fans and players in South Africa – but Cricket South Africa managed to pull off a minor coup with the first match having taken place on 16 November 2018.
The league has been bolstered by the inclusion of the likes of Protea super stars of the ilk of AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, David Miller, Hashim Amla, Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris among many other local talent.
The international cast includes West Indian master-blaster Chris Gayle, who will strut his laconic but majestic skills for the Jozi Stars – the team based out of Johannesburg. The Stars have also signed Australian big-hitter Dan Christian.
He is joined by highly regarded fellow West Indian Dwayne Bravo, who plays for the Paarl Rocks alongside Du Plessis.
The hard-hitting Englishman Eoin Morgan teams up with ABD for the Tshwane Spartans.
The team names are a bit kitsch but the tournament has dished up a veritable delight thus far and if it continues to shine, it will prove to be a successful addition to the many 20-20 tournaments across the globe.
There are six teams competing for the R7 million first prize with the Durban Heat, Paarl Rocks, Cape Town Blitz, Tshwane Spartans, Nelson Mandela (Port Elizabeth) Giants and Jozi Stars.
The tournament is a one-month blitzkrieg of mouth-watering action, taking place in the major cricket grounds across the country.
The edition also makes a bit of South African history with national broadcaster SABC earning the viewing rights after SuperSport pulled out of negotiations.
This is a major win for the cash-strapped SABC and despite a few technical difficulties and on-camera glitches the tournament thus far has been a successful venture as far as reaching the masses of cricket-loving South Africans.
The competition scored a vital injection of talent with the return of the Proteas, fresh from a series ODI and T20 win over Australia in their back yard.
The tournament hit the ground running when the Cape Town Blitz defeated the Spartans by 49 runs, despite AB de Villiers poaching a decent haul, at a strike-rate of almost 200. The Blitz managed to follow that up with another win a few days later when they defeated the Giants by 3 wickets.
The Blitz are the in-form team at the moment and after a week of action may be tipped to be finalists.
The tournament format will see the team finishing top of the log straight into the final, while the teams that finish second and third will play off in an eliminator fixture in early December.
The odds on them reaching the top-two will have been slashed after a solid start to the campaign.
The Spartans, with ABD in red-hot form are also favoured to go far, with the global giant odds-on favourite to finish as the tournament’s top run scorer. He has got off to a fast start with a couple of decent knocks, including two quick-fire 50’s.
The second match saw the Nelson Mandela Giants topple a star-studded Jozi Lions tea, by five wickets at the Bull Ring (Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg).
The third match saw the red-hot Blitz notch their second win, defeating the Heat at Kingsmead (Durban). That is two consecutive away victories for the Cape Town team.
The other match on that day was a thrilling affair with the Spartans securing a heart-stopping 1 run win over the Rocks at Boland Park in Paarl.
This was a high-scoring affair, with both teams notching over 200 runs. This game epitomised the thrill-a-minute ride that is the 20-20 format.
Arguably the best innings thus far has been from Pakistan’s Asif Ali (Blitz) who smashed a 33-ball 80, as the Cape Town team recovered from a poor start to chase down the Heat’s 157.
The best match of the tourney thus far saw the Spartans hit 203 runs, defeating the Rocks by one run, off the final ball of the match. Gihan Cloete, the unheralded Tshwane opener teamed up with experienced fellow opener Theunis de Bruyn. Cloete struck 80 while de Bruyn hot a well-played 66.
The action continued with the game between the Rocks and the Stars.
The next match (Wednesday November 21) will see the Heat entertaining the Tshwane Spartans in Durban and is set to be a slug-fest. The other Wednesday fixture will be the rocking Blitz taking on the improving Giants at St Georges Park in Nelson Mandela Bay.
The batsmen have dominated thus far with the batsmen-friendly wickets of South Africa proving a paradise for the ball-smashers and stroke-makers alike.
The top bowlers will likely come from the Protea set-up even though they missed the first few matches. Rabada, Imranm Tahir, Lungi Ngidi, Chris Morris, Dwayne Pretorius and Shamsi will start as favourites to be the bowler of the tournament and pick up the most wickets.
Rest of Fixtures:
The rest of the fixtures for the unfolding drama will be: Nelson Mandela Bay Giants vs Durban Heat, 8th Match at St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth, the Jozi Stars vs Cape Town Blitz, 9th Match at the New Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg.
Tshwane Spartans vs Nelson Mandela Bay Giants, 10th Match, at SuperSport Park, Centurion, the Paarl Rocks vs Cape Town Blitz, 11th Match at Boland Park, Paarl, the Nelson Mandela Bay Giants vs Cape Town Blitz, 12th Match at St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth, the Tshwane Spartans vs Jozi Stars, 13th Match at SuperSport Park, Centurion, the Durban Heat vs Paarl Rocks, 14th Match at Kingsmead, Durban, the Nelson Mandela Bay Giants vs Paarl Rocks, 15th Match at St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth, the Jozi Stars vs Durban Heat, 16th Match at New Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg, the Tshwane Spartans vs Cape Town Blitz, 17th Match at SuperSport Park, Centurion, the Paarl Rocks vs Durban Heat, 18th Match at Boland Park, Paarl, the Nelson Mandela Bay Giants vs Jozi Stars, 19th Match at St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth, the Cape Town Blitz vs Jozi Stars, 20th Match at Newlands, Cape Town, Tshwane Spartans vs Paarl Rocks, 21st Match at SuperSport Park, Centurion, the Durban Heat vs Nelson Mandela Bay Giants, 22nd Match at Kingsmead, Durban, Durban Heat vs Jozi Stars, 23rd Match at Kingsmead, Durban, the Cape Town Blitz vs Paarl Rocks, 24th Match, Newlands. The Nelson Mandela Bay Giants vs Tshwane Spartans, 25th Match at St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth, the Jozi Stars vs Paarl Rocks, 26th Match at New Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg, the Cape Town Blitz vs Durban Heat, 27th Match, the Jozi Stars vs Tshwane Spartans, 28th Match at New Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg, the Paarl Rocks vs Nelson Mandela Bay Giants, 29th Match at Boland Park, Paarl, the Tshwane Spartans vs Durban Heat, 30th Match, followed by the Eliminator (2nd v 3rd), and the final. The last two matches are at a venue to be confirmed by the results.
Notable players in each squad: (South African unless indicated):
Cape Town Blitz:
Quinton de Kock, Dawid Malan (England) , Andile Phehlukwayo, Dale Steyn, Samuel Badree (West Indies), Asif Ali (Pakistan), Farhaan Behardien(c).
Hashim Amla, David Miller, Heinrich Klaasen, Kyle Abbott, Keshav Maharaj, Khaya Zondo, Albie Morkel(c), Marchant de Lange, Vernon Philander.
Kagiso Rabada, Chris Gayle (West Indies), Dane Vilas(c), Rassie van der Dussen, Daniel Christian (Australia), Reeza Hendricks, Dwaine Pretorius.
Nelson Mandela Bay Giants
Imran Tahir, Chris Morris, JJ Smuts(c), Junior Dala, Christiaan Jonker, Aaron Phangiso.
Faf du Plessis(c), Dwayne Bravo (West Indies), Tabraiz Shamsi, Dane Paterson, Aiden Markram.
AB de Villiers(c), Eoin Morgan (England), Lungi Ngidi, Dean Elgar, Rilee Rossouw.