Zinta rides like a T20 knight into Stellenbosch ... Paarl ... wherever
“It’s very exciting to be here in Stellenbosch‚” Preity Zinta said in Paarl on Wednesday.
Her challenges with the local geography aside‚ the movie-star-cum-T20-franchise-mogul had done her homework.
“I had to write down ‘Stellenbosch’ five times so I didn’t misspell it‚” she said.
“The last IPL (Indian Premier League) I learnt to say ‘baie dankie’.”
At which point a reporter from an Afrikaans-language newspaper who was also at a press conference announcing the team formerly known as the Stellenbosch Monarchs — they will be the Stellenbosch Kings in the inaugural edition of the T20 Global League (T20GL) in November and December — shut his notebook.
“I’ve got my story‚” he said.
How had the Bollywood actor‚ who already owns Punjab Kings XI‚ come to be the knight in shining armour who rode to the rescue of the Stellenbosch franchise when the originally announced owners‚ Brimstone Investments‚ pulled out?
“I bumped into (Cricket South Africa chief executive) Haroon (Lorgat) in a hotel (in Dubai) and that was pretty much it‚” Zinta said. “It was an overnight decision.”
Brimstone were one of only two South African owners among the eight originally announced‚ a fact Lorgat described as a “personal disappointment”.
But cricket is moving from a game that runs on international rivalries to a business built around a handful of T20 leagues spread around the world that features the same old faces.
“The way the format is and the way leagues are structured‚ I think in the near future you are going to see league cricket take over in some ways‚” Zinta said.
“The country sport is there and it’s important‚ but the league takes over at some point.
“If you look at the viewership patterns and the analytics‚ people today have shorter attention spans.
“So I do think this is going to grow. Ten years from now we’ll have this conversation. [T20GL] will definitely change the whole landscape of cricket in this country.”
Zinta’s mind was made up by her initial experience of the Indian Premier League (IPL): “A lot of people said‚ ‘Why are you getting into it? Cricket is already the No. 1 sport in the country. It’s so saturated. What’s going to be different. There’s no growth’.
“And I said‚ ‘It’s No. 1 but I don’t watch it’. Which means the women don’t watch it‚ the families don’t watch it. Just the hardcore cricket fan watches it.”
She sketched what will be a dystopian nightmare for anyone who thinks of cricket as merely an aspect of a life lived well.
“Part of our campaign when we were building the IPL brand was that we didn’t want the remote control to be shared in the house‚” Zinta said.
“We don’t want the mother to say‚ ‘Hey — I want to see my show’. We don’t want the grandfather to say‚ ‘Put on the cricket’. We don’t want somebody else to say‚ ‘I want to watch the news’.”
But while the T20GL has Zinta‚ lights and action‚ it still doesn’t have cameras. Less than two months before the first ball is scheduled to be bowled‚ the broadcaster has yet to be named.
“In South Africa we’re in the situation where there’s one pretty strong broadcaster — you can guess as good as I can who we’re talking to‚” Lorgat said when asked if the broadcaster would be SuperSport.
“I could have sold these broadcast rights 12 months ago‚ and I can tell you what Preity has done in the last week has pumped up what we’re expecting ourselves.
“So we’re in no rush to go and do something and then say we shouldn’t have.”
With that‚ Zinta’s already neon eyes shone still more brightly as she asked: “So do I get any brownie points?”
She was‚ like she said‚ very excited. In Stellenbosch … Paarl … Wherever …