Cricket returns with innovative new format

Mark Nicholas, one of the founders of 3TCricket, addresses the media during the virtual launch of next week's fixture. Picture: Gallo Images

South African sport will make a return next week, with the country’s top players gearing up for the unique 3TCricket clash.

While Kagiso Rabada says playing cricket in midwinter on the Highveld will remind him of the freezing water in ice baths during school camps in the off-season, the Solidarity Cup 3TCricket match to be played at SuperSport Park in Centurion on June 27 might be an even bigger shock to the system for cricket purists.

South Africa’s first taste of live sport and cricket’s return to action after the Covid-19 lockdown will be a day of cricket lasting just 36 overs.

But while this may seem to be a watered down version of cricket to go with such gimmicks as T10 and The Hundred, 3TCricket does at least bring some interesting innovations to the game.

Having three teams playing against each other at the same time, batting in six-over blocks, will change the flow of limited-overs cricket, and the ‘last man standing’ rule could provide for some thrilling conclusions to games.

Paul Harris, the former top banker and Cricket South Africa independent director who is now chairman of wireless tech company Rain, which will present the Solidarity Cup, came up with the concept.

Sharp cricketing minds such as former Hampshire captain and leading commentator Mark Nicholas, CSA director for cricket Graeme Smith and Proteas coach Mark Boucher have also been involved in fine-tuning the idea. Former Springbok captain and Rugby World Cup winner Francois Pienaar, who has made a success of the innovative VarsitySports stable, has come on board as CEO of 3TCricket.

“This is a new format and I’ve always believed that you can’t have too many formats of cricket,” Nicholas, one of the founders of the 3TCricket company, said in a virtual launch on Wednesday.

“Just from my playing days we’ve had single and double-wicket competitions and limited-overs cricket has gone from 65 overs a side to 10, and everything in between.

“An eight-player, three-team format is perfect for kids and clubs which don’t have many resources, and the game has long searched for a format that will embrace all the players. No-one will be left at third man wanting to get involved.

“So we are throwing it out there. We think it is exciting and fresh, and hopefully as we come out of lockdown it will inspire children to watch. Of course the stadium will be empty, but hopefully there will be full lounges watching on SuperSport.

“Last year’s World Cup in England showed that ODI cricket is not dead but we think this could breathe new life into the middle overs.”

The country’s leading limited-overs cricketers – barring the unavailable Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir – have all signed up for the game, and superstars Rabada, Quinton de Kock and AB de Villiers have been chosen to captain the three sides.

Government has also come on board with the Solidarity Fund being the beneficiary of the fundraising efforts on the day.

“We envisage this format helping our pipeline and we will introduce it to schools and clubs,” Smith said.

“As temporary custodians of the game we are tasked with taking the game to the people, which is difficult in a country with such inequality, but this is another vehicle to do that, which is wonderful. We think it will have a big impact, maybe even internationally.”

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