Cricket was back in South Africa in a brand new, somewhat incomprehensible, form on Saturday. Firdose Moonda, our South Africa correspondent, and Deivarayan Muthu and Varun Shetty, the live bloggers for the game, look back at the goings-on at SuperSport Park in Centurion, what stuck out, what didn't, and what the future might hold for three-team cricket.
Varun Shetty: Firdose, did the confetti and the podium finish answer your question about who was winning?
Firdose Moonda: Ha! It definitely provided some clarity. I popped in in the middle of the second team's second innings and was still trying to figure out how the whole thing worked. I had to do some extra mathematics to understand who was in front. Anyway, I guess I should have known AB's team was going to win. He's the only captain that didn't change!
VS: And given how his various T20 franchises do despite his stellar performances, it must feel nice for him to be winning gold. I quite like that, actually, the whole gold-silver-bronze thing. And the whole "silver target" and "gold target" concept. What did you make of this, Deiva, as our in-house expert on all things fast when it comes to cricket?
Deivarayan Muthu: To start with, it was quite difficult to cope with the pace and the rules, particularly in the first half. I agree with you that the "silver target" and "gold target" seemed a nice concept. I honestly expected it to be a go-for-broke first half as well... but it was quite interesting to see all three teams take their time to suss out the format and conditions. Still, might have been fun to see the gully-cricket scenario of the last batsman continue batting (after a team loses seven wickets).
"New formats are often met with raised eyes and pigeonholed as gimmicks, but I think 3TC did a pretty good job of keeping it like the cricket we know. You cut an innings in half, but much else remains the same. Unfortunately, that also includes long breaks, which is the one thing I thought took away from the match today"
VS: Yeah, very careful stuff from all three teams in the first half - they all got seven in their respective first overs. No excuses, in my book, especially for the teams that faced Reeza Hendricks and Aiden Markram first up.
FM: I was also hoping to see that. I guess time of the year also has a lot to do with it. It's mid-winter in South Africa and up on the Highveld, the grass is dry, the pitches are slower and of course, the players have not had much training. I was very impressed with Glenton Stuurman, though. Did anyone stick out for you guys?
DM: Hahaha! With the caps on. At least they lived our fantasies of opening the batting as well as the bowling.
FM: Okay, so that clearly stuck out. Did you know Markram has had a fair amount of success bowling at his home ground? Although I suppose what we should really talk about is his batting.
VS: Yeah, he was lethal today. Probably the only batsman apart from Smuts who had a good first half. I'll stick my neck out and say it's probably what won them the game too. Apart from those two dropped catches off AB.
DM: It was written in the stars: AB to get some lives and lead his team to gold.
FM: Does it mean he's still available for the T20 World Cup?
VS: Oh no, she went there...
DM: I'm not going there but coming back to the names that caught my eye: Yes, Stuurman was pretty impressive. He bowled a few sharp short balls and even got it to skid off a slower pitch. I like Bjorn Fortuin too. He bowls the unglamorous variety of spin - left-arm fingerspin - and delivered two very tight overs in the second half which killed off Kingfishers' chase. He even bowls the tough overs in the Powerplays for the Lions. Sure, Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi will be SA's premier spinners in the shortest format, but will look forward to Fortuin adding to his five limited-overs caps.
FM: That's heartening to hear, especially because he hasn't had many opportunities in the past and with Tahir's career probably in the twilight years - months? - Fortuin is definitely one to watch. Is three-team cricket one to watch though?
VS: For me, yes. New formats are often met with raised eyes and pigeonholed as gimmicks, but I think 3TC did a pretty good job of keeping it like the cricket we know. Don't you think? You cut an innings in half, but much else remains the same. Unfortunately, that also includes long breaks, which is the one thing I thought took away from the match today. You can't just stop a Faf innings or a Markram innings or an AB innings and make us wait!
FM: I know that when the format was being touted, the idea the organisers had was that it could be used particularly as a development format. Would that work?
VS: Yup, I think so. If not for anything, then the fact that it does actually feel like an open nets session when there's no crowd. You have a bowl, and you have a bowl, and you have a bat. We'll put some guys out to retrieve the balls, and suddenly at the end of the day you've all had cricket.
DM: Yeah, I agree with Varun. It's an experimental format, and it wasn't nonsense as some may have envisaged. The long breaks didn't work for me either. The pitch, which wasn't a belter, also made for a fairly level playing field. It's always good fun when there's something it in for the bowlers.
VS: There is a 90-over version on the 3TC website too...
FM: That [the pitch] could easily change when we get to actual cricket season and the plan is to then have full XIs playing this format. Not sure if it will be a new South African domestic competition - and that's doubtful - but there are some future plans. It will be interesting to see what kinds of players this format best suits. Those who can deal with breaks in play it seems.
DM: Oh, interesting! Didn't know that they're planning to have this as a domestic competition. An 'A' team tri-series sounds interesting. I know this is just one game, but, hey, Sturrman was bowling to some international-quality batsmen. He doesn't play the MSL either, Firdose? So, if this works, could be format that could help bridge the gap.
FM: Stuurman might have thought himself unlucky to miss out on an MSL gig but that could very well change. There's also talk of him being able to fit into the Vernon Philander-sized hole in the Test side.
VS: Not sure about domestic competitions, but this would be great for, say, an Under-19 or an 'A' side tri-series. You play five of these in a series and your whole squad has suddenly got exposure to a higher level. I can see that working out for sure.
Also if we stick to low-stakes games like that with no crowd, then hopefully the ball boys with fishing nets thing won't die out.
FM: I thought that was a particularly innovative way to create a vibe!
VS: The other one being a freestyling Makhaya Ntini on commentary!
FM: Apart from all the dad-love, especially when Thando was batting at the end, having Ntini involved today was important from the bigger picture of what's been happening in South African cricket. As someone deep in the day-to-day back and forth, I'm interested to know what you guys have made of all of it and how today's events looked to a global audience?
VS: It certainly looked warmer than all the social media stuff around SA cricket and BLM. Whether it's representative of the overall sentiment or not is hard to tell from a TV screen of course, but I'm glad it got to the point where players did take a knee, without it having to be an exception. Massive props to Faf for his statement on Friday too. When the foremost leader in your system comes out in support, it must be so much more easy for guys like Phehlukwayo to celebrate the way he did today.
FM: Speaking of Phehlukwayo - and I thought his celebration was particularly heartfelt - he also had a decent day out. Considering how little bowling has been done over the last four months, to see him, Nortje and Sipamla turn out as they did was great.
DM: After all those comments on the jerseys getting printed already, it sure was good to see SA cricket being united in their stance on BLM, take a knee on TV. And of course Faf's message has also got the conversations going. It might not be hunky-dory, but it has at least got the conversations going. Absolutely, Andile's celebration was sure among the highlights of the day. And it was also quite fitting that Ngidi, who was the first black African to publicly back the BLM movement, closed the game out on Nelson Mandela Day.
FM: And like you guys, though it's hard to tell off a TV screen, I hope that things will start to move forward with less hostility. I've long been a believer that we need to tell the history of our cricket from all sides (black and white) and that it's important to give those that the system denied a platform and space for their stories. I can see that happening now. I also know that South African cricket is in need of a lot of work on-field, especially after last season's results, and that it will be difficult for that to happen in a climate of controversy. A lot of healing needs to happen. Maybe it starts here.
VS: Maybe so, yes. And on that front, at least, the 3TC being played at this point in time when the world is talking about it, is a bit of a success already.
FM: And now it's back to lockdown!
VS: On the cricketing front, mind you, the 3TC will always produce two sets of batsmen who failed in a chase. So I don't know how South Africans will feel about that in terms of development...
FM: So unnecessary that, Varun. Let us deal with one thing at a time, please *insert smiley face*.
VS: Bad things come in threes, Firdose.
FM: We can't end on that note. Hopefully Deiva has a better last word.
DM: Yes, we can close it out, the step into the unknown wasn't too bad.