Afghanistan leg-spinner Rashid Khan made an almost immediate impact Friday when he finally played for Durban Heat in the new South African Mzansi Super League.
But it was too late to help his team reach the play-offs of the first city-based Twenty20 league in the republic.
Khan and other international ‘marquee’ players Chris Gayle, Eoin Morgan, Jason Roy, Dwayne Bravo and Dawid Malan arrived for the last two weeks of a tournament which has had mixed reviews from the public and media.
Khan, the world’s top-ranked T20 international bowler, was only available for the last four matches for a franchise which several commentators regarded as tournament favourites after the player draft in October.
But a potentially strong Durban batting line-up failed to fire and Khan landed in South Africa with his team needing to win all their remaining matches to earn a top-three place and a tilt at the title.
However, his first match was rained off this week and the Heat were eliminated.
Khan took three for 19 in a mesmerising four-over spell against title-chasing Jozi Stars from Johannesburg at Kingsmead Friday.
It seemed likely to earn his team a win until tailender Nono Pongolo, with 12 runs needed off the last two balls, hit two full tosses from Marchant de Lange – one a no-ball – for six.
That the international stars only joined the tournament at a late stage is a consequence of hasty arrangements and a clash with a 10-overs competition in Abu Dhabi.
Cricket South Africa chief executive Thabang Moroe says the league has been a success.
“I am incredibly happy with how the tournament has started and its continuous growth in terms of popularity,” he said.
Although crowds have been modest compared to similar tournaments in India and Australia, Moroe said: “We have now laid the foundation.
“This product will only get better. The standard of cricket and interest has been magnificent.“
But former chief executive Haroon Lorgat, who resigned in acrimonious circumstances when a more ambitious league with private owners was cancelled last year, said the tournament was “unimpressive” compared to what he had envisioned.
“I’m sad to say it looks too much like a second-grade product that has been cobbled together,” said Lorgat.
“Your benchmark has to be what you see elsewhere. The IPL (Indian Premier League) is still the standard-bearer, but this (Mzansi Super League) is also some way short of all the other T20 leagues.”
Table-topping Cape Town Blitz have pulled the biggest crowds, twice attracting just under 7,000 spectators to their Newlands home ground.
The next biggest official crowd was 5,544 when a small ground at Paarl was sold out for a local derby between Paarl Rocks and Cape Town Blitz.
The matches have been shown live on SABC, the national broadcaster, and early viewing figures suggested an average South African viewership of more than 450,000 for each match.
Matches have also been televised in India, Britain and the West Indies.