African Premier League: a cricket fan’s conflictions on yet another international T20 franchise tournament

The African Premier League will aim to have its’ inaugural season in August and September 2024
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It seems a betrayal to suggest that the proposal of a cricket tournament taking place in the latter stages of summer fills me with dread. Yet, when I stumbled across the plans for the African Premier League T20 competition my heart did slightly sink.

The latest addition to the T20 tournament calendar is set to take place in August and September with the inaugural event happening in 2024. The first edition will be hosted only in South Africa but the ultimate aim is that it will be a pan-African event - an ambitious but brilliant opportunity to break into a growing market of talent on the continent.

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We saw during the 2022 T20 World Cup the potential that exists within Africa as Zimbabwe beat Pakistan by one wicket in an enthralling match. And, as the continent of Africa has a population of over 1.2 billion, it speaks for itself that there must be so much which could be offered from these smaller cricket countries if they had the infrastructure and support.

So what better way to experiment and expand with this then setting up a continent wide T20 tournament to uncover one of the biggest untapped markets?

However, this will now be the thirteenth international T20 league tournament, after the likes of the Indian Premier League, the Australian Big Bash, the Pakistan Super League and so forth. So the question begs, do we really need yet another one?

The Africa Cricket Association (ACA) chief executive Cassim Suliman spoke to BBC Sport Africa saying: “There’s big interest with regards to investors from overseas, even as far as America. Everyone is looking at Africa and the first African Premier League.”

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Sulliman also noted: “We need to make sure we get the top players that can rub shoulders with African players who can learn and educate themselves from that experience. - it will be absolutely brilliant. It’ll be players from the UK, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, of course South Africa and Zimbabwe, and the local players within the ACA.”

Kagiso Rabada for Punjab Kings in IPL 2023Kagiso Rabada for Punjab Kings in IPL 2023
Kagiso Rabada for Punjab Kings in IPL 2023

At present, however, all of these top players Sulliman is hoping to pull into the APL are likely to already be contracted to the other 12 leagues taking place, one of which takes place at the same time as the proposed dates for this latest addition.

Not only is there now a clash of dates between the APL and the England and Wales Cricket Board’s brainchild, The Hundred, but this is now the second T20 tournament to take place in South Africa following the inauguration of the SA20 league earlier this year.

Sulliman has said there is no rivalry when it comes to competing for not just time slots and broadcasting rights but players as well: “There is no such thing as rivalry. We have to stay clear and not clash with any other events and make sure everyone is happy.”

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Well it seems incomprehensible to work out how this is going to pan out when the events clearly already will cross over.

This year’s The Hundred final is scheduled to be played on 27 August which will then presumably be half way through when the APL is taking place.

Are organisers really anticipating that the likes of Glenn Maxwell, Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine, who have already spent a month away from families competing in The Hundred, are then going to pop over to Africa for yet another high intensity month of T20 cricket?

As it stands, Narine, Carlos Brathwaite and Adam Zampa are among some of the overseas stars who are already splitting their time between The Hundred and the Caribbean Premier League. Is Sulliman and the rest of the ACA then believing the ‘world’s best’ will choose to split their already limited time a third way?

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The cricket calendar is already feeling exceptionally crowded with the ever-growing franchise opportunities which keep popping up as stars struggle to find the equilibrium between international, domestic and franchise duties.

We’ve seen many England stars, such as Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali already call-out the unmanageable workload of this balancing act, suggesting they are unlikely to jump on the idea of filling their cramped diaries with something else.

There is no denying that an APL would provide a fantastic opportunity for the effervescent pool of African talent that there is, or could be if the tournament finds the same success as the Indian Premier League has done for its country’s talent.

And of course, from any fan’s perspective, some form of cricket is always better than no cricket but, squeezing a thirteenth major T20 league in a year that is only 12 months long just doesn’t quite add up.

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Additionally, setting up what would hope to be a ground-breaking tournament when the players available are not the A-Listers the event would need seems counter-intuitive.

So until there is some form of let-up within the rest of the calendar (which seems improbable given the successes of these pre-existing leagues) the APL 2024 could well be one of the most untimely and unfortunate flops in the phenomenon that is T20 franchise cricket.

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