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Simon Harmer: SA20 cricket atmosphere second only to India

English County stars Simon Harmer and Tom Abell are excited about the second edition of the Betway SA20 League in South Africa, and expect an electric atmosphere.

The duo will be in action on Wednesday for the defending champions Sunrisers Eastern Cape when the competition gets underway at the iconic St Georges Park in Gqeberha, formally known as Port Elizabeth. 

Sunrises, who won the competition last year after beating the Pretoria Capitals in the final, take on the Joburg Super Kings in the tournament opener.

England opener Dawid Malan and all-rounder Liam Dawson have joined the team for the second edition of the tournament, while big-hitting wicket-keeper Adam Rossington is back in the Friendly City. 

All-rounder Abell didn't get a lot of game time for the Sunrises in the first edition after his tournament was cut short, but enjoyed the experience in 2023, which came as a bit of a surprise.

"I didn't know what to fully expect. But the way the South African public bought into the tournament ... the excitement was fantastic," said the Somerset star, according to SportsBoom

"From an English point of view - obviously we lost to South Africa in the [Rugby] World Cup - you see the passion for sport here and it does make a huge difference. Other people who have played in other competitions are pretty envious of what South Africa has here."

Essex off-spinner Harmer echoed Abell's sentiments, saying that a lot of overseas players were impressed by the hype around the matches, as well as the general organisation of the tournament. 

"A lot of the overseas players underestimated the tournament ... the full stadiums and how well it was run," the former South African Test spinner told SportsBoom

"A guy like Adam Rossington going back to Essex and saying what an unbelievable tournament it was, and that South Africa is an amazing country."

"If you look at other tournaments around the world, the stadiums aren't necessarily full, it's more about the commercial value. The atmosphere here is probably only second to India."

Harmer is back in the Eastern Cape where his cricket first flourished after playing for the Durban Super Giants in the first edition of the SA20. 

Harmer is one of the senior Proteas in the Sunrisers' side, along with white ball captain Aiden Markram and Test captain Temba Bavuma. They desperately want to go back-to-back after the team did well in the first edition of the SA20.

"Coming down here and seeing the star above the badge (for winning the 2023 tournament), I want to be a contributor. It's exciting to be the defending champions but the biggest thing for us is looking to win the trophy again this year" said Harmer. 

"I don't think [being defending champions] changes the way that you play. Although obviously there will be more expectations from the public. It's just about that mindset of looking to win another trophy and not just defend what we have."

Harmer says the SA20 has breathed life into South Africa's domestic cricket after previous T20 tournaments - featuring international talent - didn't really get going. 

"For the first time since I've been a professional cricketer you see full stadiums", added Harmer. 

"They managed to put the tournament together in a short space of time and it was a huge success. It's brought a platform for our players to be a stepping stone for big tournaments such as the IPL. 

"If you look at the players who performed well last year, they are being recognised and being picked up in the IPL, whereas before I feel like if you did well in South Africa, you still needed to do well elsewhere in Australia or the Caribbean or wherever it may be."

"The amount of money that the domestic player can earn ... I think it's massive."

The Joburg Super Kings will look to spoil the champions' homecoming on Wednesday. The Gauteng side will have their ace speedster Nandre Burger available from the start of the tournament after he missed some matches of the 2023 edition of the SA20 because of a heel injury. 

Burger has had a fantastic summer of cricket in South Africa, making his Proteas debut in the white ball series against India, as well as the Test matches in which he impressed with the ball.

"I'm pretty disappointed to have missed a lot of cricket last season because of a heel injury that not a lot of people knew about" said Burger. 

"This year, I feel I'm in a good space and just excited to get going. The experience against India was obviously incredible. I find it so cool when the crowd gets involved in a game - you run into the bowl and the crowd is clapping and cheering. 

"I learnt quite a lot and can take a lot away from the experience. The transition back to T20 cricket has its own challenges and it's just about adapting to those challenges"

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