Eagles ready to soar as SA sport returns with 3TCricket

Geoffrey Toyana is the coach of the Eagles for the Solidarity Cup clash. Picture: Gallo Images

With three teams playing at the same time in a unique format behind closed doors, South Africa’s elite cricketers will return to a new-look game this weekend, but Eagles coach Geoff Toyana says his side is ready to go.

Toyana said on Wednesday he would give his team his usual shrewd strategic input before the game, but the veteran coach felt the nature of 3TCricket was such that it would be only the tip of the iceberg, and captain AB de Villiers would need to be at his sharpest and most flexible if they were to win Saturday’s inaugural unveiling of the new format.

The country’s best 24 available cricketers were set to return to action in a SuperSport Park bio-bubble, with live South African sport returning to television screens for the first time since the nation was locked down, in the Solidarity Cup fundraising match.

In a version of the sport never seen before, three eight-member teams were set to battle it out at the same time, each batting for 12 overs in six-over blocks against each of their opponents.

The Eagles, Kingfishers and Kites were gearing up for their first sip of 3TCricket with a practice match on Thursday, but Toyana was already certain that captains would play the leading role.

He had full confidence in his skipper, former Proteas captain De Villiers, who was set to lock horns with current national limited-overs captain Quinton de Kock (Kites) and ace fast bowler Kagiso Rabada (Kingfishers).

“It’s something new for all of us and we are still finding our strategy, so tomorrow (Thursday) is the perfect opportunity to test things out and also sharpen up on the rules,” Toyana said.

“There’s not just one opponent to worry about now but two, and you need to be smart in terms of who bowls against who. Each bowler only gets three overs, so do you bowl, say Lungi Ngidi, for two overs against the first team or against the second side?

“There are going to be headaches like that and the last man stands rule in batting is also very exciting.

“I think the captain is going to be the big player and he needs to get his tactics spot-on. He’ll have to really think on his feet, but fortunately AB is really positive and passionate about this. And he’s hitting the ball extremely well. As good as I’ve ever seen him hit it.”

While Covid-19 restrictions were likely to rob the match of some of its joy, with no spectators allowed at the stadium, Toyana said the players were all delighted to be playing cricket again.

“It’s just a really good thing to be back on the field again,” he said.

“The sun’s shining and we had really good training. Rassie van der Dussen is also looking good although he keeps wanting to bowl, Andile Phehlukwayo had a good hit too and Bjorn Fortuin was in his element. Lungi Ngidi and Junior Dala have been hard at work here at the Titans for the last two weeks and they are very excited too.

“We will have to observe social distancing, of course, and there are some strange red lines on the field. Plus the players all use their own balls, which makes it tricky for the coach because you hit one to a player and he ignores it because it’s not his ball! But these are tough times and it’s a charitable cause, and the guys all just want to help out.”

Originally, Proteas white-ball spinner Tabraiz Shamsi was the only slow bowler named in the squads, but Highveld Lions star Fortuin had subsequently replaced Sisanda Magala, who pulled out due to a family bereavement.

Judging by how spinners were fatally under-rated when T20 first came along, not having a frontline spinner could hurt the chances of the Kites, although Jon-Jon Smuts was far from a part-timer.

“I think this game will be good for spinners as well and I’m glad we’ve got one,” Toyana said.

“Bjorn is one of the best in the country at controlling the field, and we could even use him up front against certain batsmen.”

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