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From UAE to South Africa, cricket’s transition into global entertainment machine gathers pace

If further evidence of the Hollywood- or Bollywood-ization of cricket was needed, then it was in abundance at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Jan. 13.

Prior to the opening match of the DP World ILT20, Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan, co-owner of the Abu Dhabi Knight Riders, addressed the crowd and global viewers to thank those who made the tournament possible. He also took the opportunity to remind those watching about his new film, which represents his first in four years.

The other performers were Indian rapper Badshah, who composed and sung the theme song of the league, American singer-songwriter Jason Derulo, and Trinidadian cricketer Dwayne Bravo, playing for MI Emirates in the competition.

Once the match got underway, Dubai Capitals totalled 187 for the loss of six wickets, captain Rovman Powell scoring 48 runs from 29 balls. This proved to be too much for the Knight Riders, who registered only 114 in their 20 overs.

Three days earlier, at Newlands cricket ground in Cape Town, the Betway SA20 tournament was launched. In comparable manner to Dubai, the opening ceremony featured rapper Sho Madjozi and singer Master KG, both South Africans, along with supporting dancers.

More importantly, there were enough spectators, diverse in age, gender, and race, to fill Newlands for the first time in more than three years.

During this time, Cricket South Africa experienced a chaotic turnover of key personnel, including chief executive officers, captains, and coaches, which served to shatter public confidence and create instability. An attempt to launch a franchised T20 competition, lacking television rights and sponsorship, failed in 2018.

This time around the franchisees are seasoned India Premier League team owners, and a 10-year broadcast rights agreement is in place with Viacom 18, and the title sponsor is Betway. This is a Malta-based online betting and gaming company, owned by Super Group, a global digital gaming firm.

Additionally, the competition is not owned or run solely by CSA, but by Africa Cricket Development (PTY) Ltd. Newly formed in 2022, CSA’s stake is 50 percent, SuperSport, a South Africa-based group of television channels, has 30 percent, and a former chief operating officer of the IPL, Sundar Raman, has 20 percent.

The global reach of SA20 is impressive in terms of both ownership and audience, Viacom 18 providing access to the Indian market and SuperSport to sub-Saharan Africa.

So far, spectators have been impressed. As well as the full house at Newlands, the subsequent matches at Kingsmead, Durban, and St. George’s Park, Gqeberha, were sold out.

Apart from the cricket, various other forms of entertainment are being provided to maintain the interest of spectators. At the first game to be held at the Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg, on Jan. 17, so-called match-day activations included stilt-walkers, jugglers, a virtual reality booth, rappers, DJs, and fireworks.

Spectators at all matches, who are aged over 18, have an opportunity to benefit from Betway’s Catch a Million prize by one-handedly catching a six which has been hit into the crowd. In an indication of the encouraging start made by SA20, Betway announced on day eight, Jan. 17, that it was doubling the prize money to $116,000 (2 million rand) and rebranding the opportunity, Betway Catch R2million.

By Jan. 19, 13 of the 33 matches had been completed, with the five teams locked very tightly, only one point separating second from bottom. In match 13, Pretoria Capitals’ comfortable victory put them top with three wins out of four. The bottom team, Sunrisers Eastern Cape, secured their second win in three days against the previous joint top team, MI Cape Town, in a thrilling contest. Chasing a target of 172, the Sunrisers looked to be out of the match after 15 overs, having lost six wickets for 101 runs. However, Marco Jansen smashed 66 runs in 27 balls, against high-quality bowling, to propel his team to victory.

In the UAE, as of Jan. 18, seven of the 34 matches had been completed. The MI Emirates, the Gulf Giants, and the Desert Vipers have each won their first two matches. At the bottom of the table, both the Sharjah Warriors and the Abu Dhabi Knight Riders have lost their first three matches, so have some ground to make up.

Notable performances have come from one of England’s most itinerant cricketers, Alex Hales, who has scored 83 not out and 64 in his two innings, while Bravo proved that he can entertain on the pitch as well as the stage with three wickets for 25 in the MI Emirates win against Sharjah Warriors.

Although it is too early to be sure of the front-runners, it is very clear that the rapid growth of T20 cricket enlarges the market for betting, some of it unregulated. Estimates place a 2021 value on the global sports betting market of between $77 billion and $90 billion, with a compound growth rate of around 10 percent forecast up to 2030.

The attraction of betting on T20 cricket is that it provides an outcome quickly. There are specialist websites which provide forecasts of results and player performance based on data analysis. A whole new sub-sector has emerged but, with it, come issues.

The International Cricket Council has an anti-corruption unit, with a commitment to protect all forms of international cricket played under the aegis of the council and its members. Protection of domestic cricket is the responsibility of the boards of full members. However, associate members organizing tournaments with a certain number of international players must obtain a licence from the ICC that involves having an anti-corruption strategy in place.

Cricket’s evolution into a sport of high-intensity entertainment on and off the field is generating big financial rewards for players, owners, cricket boards, media channels, commentators, analysts, sponsors, and advertisers. It is also attracting those who seek to benefit financially from illegal or nefarious activity centered on the game.

Those responsible for policing these activities have a challenging task ahead to preserve the game’s integrity amidst the spectacle of T20 cricket.

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