Saturday, July 18, will see the freshest format of cricket being rolled out. No, not the Hundred, but 3TC, a South African innovation. Here's a look at what to expect from it, and what not to.
What exactly is the 3TC?
Well, three-team cricket is what it is, but that can't mean much to you unless you have been following the updates from the first day. In case you don't, here's the lowdown.
There will be three teams (obviously), of eight players each, called Eagles, Kingfishers and Kites. But it's no triangular series, because the three teams will play the same match, with the proceeds helping with relief for people, within the cricket industry in South Africa, who have been affected by Covid-19.
The match - between teams led by AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock and Reeza Hendricks - will be played over 36 overs in two halves of 18 overs each. Each team will bat for one combined innings of 12 overs, facing the two opponents for six overs each, one of them in the first half and one in the second.
The sequence for each team will be: bat, bowl, dugout, with a draw (toss of sorts) deciding which team bats first. Once the first half is done, the team with the highest score will bat first and the one with the lowest score will bat last - in case of a tie, the order of the first half is reversed.
It might make for odd viewing, but if a team loses seven wickets, the unbeaten batsman can continue batting. All right, clarification: if a team loses seven wickets with some balls remaining in their first six overs, their first hit ends there and then, some balls unused. But the not-out batsman can come out and bat alone in the second half, but can only score in even numbers - 2, 4 and 6.
For the bowling side, each bowler can bowl three overs, and all their 12 overs are bowled with the same ball.
And, finally, whoever gets the most runs wins gold, followed by silver and bronze, and in case of a tie among the top-two teams, we get a Super Over. If all three teams end on the same number of runs, they all win gold. And if we have a clear winner but a tie between the other two, they both win silver.
Hopefully that makes sense, even if it's a bit difficult to visualise it. But it might be fun. The tournament website promises "an unrelenting and ever-changing contest that keeps captains (and fans) on a knife-edge as they strategise against two opponents at the same time". It will be quite frenetic, that's for sure.
Who are playing?
Of the three captains named at the start, only de Villiers remains. Kagiso Rabada was originally named captain of Kingfishers, but dropped out because of the death of a family member, and was replaced as the captain by Heinrich Klaasen. But on the eve of the game, Klaasen was replaced by Reeza Hendricks as the organisers lent their support to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Then, on the morning of the match*, it was announced that de Kock, the original captain of Kites, was out because of personal reasons, and had been replaced by Temba Bavuma.
Here's what the squads look like at the end of all the updates, including Kingfishers losing the services of Chris Morris and Eagles Sisanda Magala.
Kingfishers: Reeza Hendricks (capt), Heinrich Klaasen, Janneman Malan, Faf du Plessis, Thando Ntini, Gerald Coetzee, Glenton Stuurman, Tabraiz Shamsi
Coach: Mignon du Preez
Kites: Temba Bavuma (capt), Jon-Jon Smuts, David Miller, Dwaine Pretorius, Lutho Sipamla, Beuran Hendricks, Anrich Nortje, Ryan Rickleton
Coach: Wandile Gwavu
Eagles: AB de Villiers (capt), Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, Kyle Verreynne, Andile Phehlukwayo, Bjorn Fortuin, Junior Dala, Lungi Ngidi
Coach: Geoffrey Toyana
Hang on, is it safe to play right now, with the pandemic still very much on?
Okay, first things first: the game is at Centurion, which is in Gauteng province, which is currently being seen as the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa.
But Cricket South Africa is pretty confident of things working out fine. And here are a couple of experts, who might not have the same points of view, but give us a pretty good picture.
"The players were tested before they left their homes to enter the bubble which means the risk of asymptomatic carriers was addressed. It is expected that players will be asked symptom questions daily and will report if they are feeling unwell. Any further testing would be a waste of limited testing supplies" - Prof Ian Sanne
"The current government protocols do not ensure complete safety but we need to balance out the need to get the economy and sport going against the growing pandemic" - Dr Jason Suter
If you want more on the subject, or want some other details about the tournament and the players, here's what Firdose Moonda sent in earlier today.
Wasn't there a delay of some sort?
Yes, and it might not have been a bad thing, considering the pandemic. Not that it's gone away, but still…
They had planned to have it on June 27, but the South African government scuppered those plans because CSA hadn't obtained the necessary approvals from the sports ministry. CSA also required an approval from the country's department of health, which it didn't have at that stage. As reported by ESPNcricinfo, CSA had jumped the gun in announcing the date, which came after Smith, the CSA director of cricket, announcing that all boxes had been ticked.
It's happening now, though, so all is well. And we hope it ends well too.
And what about the developments around the Black Lives Matter movement - should we expect to see any gestures?
Indeed. It started in South African cricket with Lungi Ngidi, and has since snowballed into a big debate. Soon after Ngidi spoke of "making a stand", some former white cricketers, including prominent ones like Pat Symcox and Brian McMillan, criticised him for not bringing up the killings of predominantly white farmers in South Africa. Since then, some of the biggest names in the country have come out in support of Ngidi and BLM, including Hashim Amla and, in the latest update, Faf du Plessis and four other white Afrikaans cricketers.
On the eve of the game, Hendricks replaced Klaasen as Kingfishers' captain after the tournament organisers threw their support behind the Black Lives Matter movement. "It is important to stand by our convictions and to set the right example in everything we do," CSA Acting CEO Dr Jacques Faul said in a statement. "Cricket South Africa stands for equal opportunity and showcasing our country's talent and its diversity."
What should we expect to see on the field - well, no BLM logos on the shirts, it seems, because the kits had already been printed, but Smith did say last week that the players were thinking about innovative ways to show their support. Dwaine Pretorius and du Plessis have indicated that they would be taking a knee during the game. So enough to watch out for on Saturday, that's for sure.
*Updates following a CSA statement at 6am GMT on July 18, 2020