The six-team inaugural edition of the SA20 tournament was held for the first time earlier this January-February with Sunrisers Eastern Cape clinching the title.
Former South African captain Smith, who has been tasked with the role of ensuring the growth and expansion of the tournament, felt that the first season had fans coming back to the stadium and re-embracing the sport despite all the negativity.
“It’s hard to quantify (the tournament’s impact), but it’s huge,” Smith, who is the commissioner of SA20, told PTI in an exclusive interview with 50 days remaining for the second season of the league.
“South African cricket developed such a negativity over the last couple of years, for the team maybe not performing as well, you know, (a) highly political environment, things, you know, administration maybe not working at its best,” he said.
“It was so fantastic to suddenly know that cricket was the main conversation, that fans were coming back, they were loving the game of cricket, there was a feel-good factor,” he added.
Smith said the league’s aim will be to develop high-quality players for South African cricket and he wanted to develop it as the second best competition after the Indian Premier League (IPL).
“Our goal is not only commercial success and building a successful tournament, it is in 3-4 years to see a crop of white-ball cricketers come through, or cricketers in general, come through like IPL has done for Indian cricket, where there’s just high quality players everywhere,” he said.
“For us, the pressure of the crowds, the cameras, and the exposure to the franchises, the top coaches, medical, fitness, whatever… that in 3-4 years there will be 25-30 players that are just outstanding,” Smith added.
“We have got big ambitions at SA20 to be the biggest league outside India. So, season two is just about growth and making sure that we execute as well as we did in season one,” he said.
Smith said SA20’s unique rule of allowing captains to declare their playing XIs after the toss was to ensure less impact on the outcome but acknowledged that IPL’s impact player rule was also appealing.
“What we tried to do is to try and make the toss less of an impactful moment in the game, to allow teams to be able to cover their bases whether they are batting or bowling first.
“We saw IPL bring in the impact player (rule), we will debate those things. I still think T20 cricket is really strong. We’re introducing a new product and we’re trying to bring new fans into the stadiums and revive old fans.
“But I think (the) feedback in general was that (in) season one, from a cricketing perspective, from that rule change, plus the dead ball hitting the stumps rule change, really worked,” he said.