Unflappable Faf's calm grasp of Mzansi Super League's importance

In Faf du Plessis the Mzansi Super League has a rock solid personality around which to build a meaningful T20 tournament. A crisis has been averted for now, and we can finally start talking cricket again.

Paarl Rocks captain Faf du Plessis speaks to the media at the launch of the new Mzansi Super League team on Monday, 22 October 2018. Picture: @Paarl_Rocks/Twitter

You would probably bet your house on Faf du Plessis. Hell, you'd probably trust him to babysit your kids one day.

The Proteas captain seems unflappable even at the zaniest of times, but there he was helping to launch a new team in a tournament that starts in less than a month; a tournament that didn’t exist less than two weeks ago. These are interesting times in cricket, but it’s the same calm Du Plessis.

In the oppressive heat of the Boland, Du Plessis was the coolest cat at the launch event of the Mzansi Super League's Paarl Rocks team on Monday. It was the obligatory show of face and Q and A session that needed to happen before he boarded a flight to Johannesburg, to connect with his national teammates and prepare for the not-so-important limited overs series against Australia Down Under.

“I think people here will fall in love with this idea of T20 cricket. With Stellenbosch being so close by as well, hopefully the students will have a good time when they come to the cricket,” Du Plessis said.

As he repelled sweat at Boland Park, Du Plessis would no doubt have cast his mind towards the manic schedule ahead that only climaxes in July 2019 at the World Cup. The extra flights and fixtures won't do him and his national squad any favours, but these are professionals and none more so than Du Plessis.

He put on a brave face under high temperatures at the event, which was perhaps a true representation of a genuine effort on the part of Cricket South Africa and the respective unions to make the best out of an awkward situation.

The Mzansi Super League is a miracle baby. It could so easily and painfully have been aborted after months of hand-wringing, finger-wagging and false expectations. Not a ball has been bowled yet, but the evidence suggests that there are a million things happening behind the scenes to get the tournament off the ground come November 16.

They rolled out the purple carpet at Paarl Rocks HQ at Boland Park on Monday. Team management led by the reliable Adrian Birrell and Geoffrey Toyana were assembled, together with veteran cricket commentator Jeremy Fredericks as communications manager. They're all seasoned professionals who have devoted a substantial portion of their lives to domestic and international cricket. Boland Cricket is credited with producing such talents as Roger Telemachus, Henry Williams, Charl Langveldt and Justin Ontong. But it’s also a place where former Springbok coach Pieter de Villiers is an honorary member.

There’s a quiet optimism, bordering on belief, that the Paarl region stands to gain from CSA’s bold T20 endeavour.

The Cape Winelands is heavily reliant on farming and tourism to drive its economy. It’s the breadbasket of the Western Cape, while deeper issues of farmworker evictions and unemployment underscore the need to inject some revenue into the region - assuming there’s enough to go around. The objective for now though is for the tournament to get past the first year and ensure that next year’s competition … rocks.

For those who don’t know, the Paarl Rock is a giant granite protrusion that attracts hikers and Instagrammers from all over the world. The rock has no bearing on the league at all apart from the glaring metaphors that will be used to describe the Paarl team and its captain: "a stoic batting performance", "standing firm" and "a solid base".

What benefits international-class cricket will bring to the area remains to be seen, but Boland Cricket is certainly embracing its darling status after outscoring Bloemfontein to be one of the six chosen league venues.

The much-talked-about “fan journey” has been the deciding factor, and by this week’s evidence that journey should begin with plenty of fluids and tons of sunscreen. It’s scorching hot in this part of the world at the moment, and that may rub off on the cricket whichever way you look at it.

The 10,000-seater stadium is likely to attract families and students from nearby Stellenbosch and hopefully inspire some thrilling encounters. There will be music, beer, braai, and fireworks, and some among us will begin to adopt a totally new brand for the sake of cricket all over South Africa. Lord knows, CSA need this to work.

So lucrative is the pop up T20 league of nations that betting in some games has attracted more money than mainstream ICC calendar matches. The Mzansi Super League will be without many of the top international players like Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Rashid Khan for more than half the tournament because of commitments to the Abu Dhabi T10 League. It is these commitments that the Mzansi Super League will be hoping to reverse next time around. It’s a tried and trusted business model proven all over the world, including that global cricketing powerhouse – Canada.

For now, a crisis has been averted and we can finally start talking about the cricket again.