AB de Villiers got the newest cricket format off to a thoroughly entertaining start as he led the Eagles to victory in the inaugural 3TCricket match at SuperSport Park in Centurion.
He also got tongues wagging yet again about a potential international comeback.
De Villiers blazed a typically imperious 61 runs off 24 balls to lead the Eagles to 160-4 in their 12 overs against the Kingfishers (113-5) and Kites (138-3).
With Aiden Markram reminding everyone of his abilities with a dazzling 70 off 33 deliveries at the other end, the Eagles were always going to be tough to catch.
De Villiers and Markram shared a stunning partnership of 100 off just 43 balls.
Markram set the tone up front as the Eagles posted 66-1 against the Kingfishers in their first six overs, scoring 47 not out off 23 balls. But they were under pressure early on as the economical Glenton Stuurman bowled Rassie van der Dussen for eight and the score was only 23-1 after 2.5 overs when wicketkeeper Heinrich Klaasen dropped De Villiers on just one off wrist-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi’s sixth delivery.
Shamsi’s day grew progressively worse as he ended up conceding 56 runs in his three overs.
The Eagles’ total was the best after the first half of the match, better than the 58-1 posted by the Kites against them and the 56-2 scored by the Kingfishers against a Kites attack led by Anrich Nortje.
So the eventual winners batted first in the second half and De Villiers immediately got the momentum going with successive sixes and 19 runs off spinner Jon-Jon Smuts’ first over.
De Villiers was dismissed in the penultimate over, skying the excellent Nortje (3-27-2) to long-on, but the Eagles had already scored enough to secure first place.
The Eagles bowlers also did their bit in limiting their opposition, with left-arm spinner Bjorn Fortuin (3-20-1) and Andile Phehlukwayo (3-24-2) being particularly outstanding.
The return of cricket, following a lengthy suspension due to the Covid-19 pandemic, got off to a heartwarming start as all the players, officials and commentators took a knee in support of Black Lives Matter before the first ball was bowled.
All the players wore black armbands with Black Lives Matter on them and, after a fractious week in South African cricket, there was a pleasing air of unity and reconciliation, with Graeme Smith and Makhaya Ntini taking a knee next to each other with their right fists raised. They then commentated together, with Smith saying he could “feel the emotion” and Ntini replying: “We stand together”.
The Kites finished second after Smuts provided a solid platform with his 48 off 26 deliveries and all-rounder Dwaine Pretorius added to their halfway total of 58-1 with a ferocious 17-ball 50 not out.
The Kingfishers were the first team to bat and battled to get going, even though captain Reeza Hendricks (20) and Janneman Malan (31) shared the biggest opening partnership of the day (51).
Batting for the second time, Faf du Plessis gave the Kingfishers some momentum with his 28 off 12 deliveries, before he was beaten in the flight and bowled by Fortuin.
Young all-rounder Gerald Coetzee, who bowled with good pace and skill, scored 24 not out off 15 balls, though he could not prevent the Kingfishers from finishing last. But their paceman Stuurman took two for 26 in his three overs and was the most impressive bowler of the day.