Good news in South Africa: 3 Team Cricket, the newest game format in which three teams play each other simultaneously, finally has a release date. The inaugural 3TC event – with eight players led by AB de Villiers, Kagiso Rabada and Quinton de Kock – will be held at SuperSport Park in Pretoria on 18 July.
“I can’t think of a more appropriate day to play this game than Nelson Mandela Day,” said Jacques Faul, chief executive of Cricket South Africa. And, in fact, it is possible that this is exactly the utopian vision that Mandela sustained through his long years of incarceration: the end of apartheid, a free and democratic society, a novelty game in which three teams take turns to play in six. about segments.
According to the conventional laws of cricket discourse on the Internet, this is exactly the kind of thing that people like me should hate: a perfect wedge issue on which to stage the tiring cultural wars of cricket. Hey, I love two team cricket as much as anyone, but there is a financial reality out there. We need to appeal to the family market and all the research indicates that women and children prefer their sports competitions in triplicate. It is the way of the world.
The most prosaic truth is that 3 Team Cricket seems to me to be a very intriguing experiment: a tailor-made solution to the frequent problem of decreasing access to facilities and the difficulty of assembling teams of 11 players at the amateur level. In addition, he feels a strangely adaptable tribute to the timeless and restless adaptability of cricket that, while embracing another new format, also welcomes the older ones.
Yes: the cricket test is back. In a way, the Ageas Bowl is the perfect place to induce the new post-pandemic era of international cricket: a soulless bowl, just off the M27 with its own two-mile biosafety radius from anywhere remotely interesting. Still, as England and the West Indies face off on Wednesday’s first test, there will undoubtedly be a lot to distract us from. The confrontation between Jofra Archer and Mark Wood, Kemar Roach and Alzarri Joseph. Jason Holder and Ben Stokes – two of the greatest Poles in the world – going toe-to-toe. The sight of Joe Denly meticulously reaching 30 before invariably playing across a straight.
Of course, there will also be a note of dissonance: the void recalls that this is essentially a cold product, a contractual obligation, even if only possible through the admirable cooperation of tourists. Despite all the familiar rhythms that will resume on Wednesday morning, the atmosphere of celebration, perhaps even the varnish of normality, is strange and vividly uncertain times for the international game, which is, as always, squeezed between the rock of the trade and industry. difficult place of protectionist self-interest.
Take, by way of example, the context in which England x the West Indies is taking place: the cursed ICC World Test Championship, which has developed a considerable reserve of equipment. With no prospect of eliminating him before the Lord’s final next summer, the options are to truncate and make the whole tournament a farce or to postpone and renegotiate the entire international 2023-31 calendar and rights cycle.
The problem in both scenarios is the same that has plagued international cricket for years: essentially, the most powerful nations will seize the opportunity to cut the pieces of the calendar they don’t want. Bangladesh has had four series postponed. Cricket Australia has just closed a one-day international series against Zimbabwe. The historic daytime test against Afghanistan in Perth in November could be the next.
West Indian staff and staff saw a 50% cut in wages after the coronavirus crisis. Photo: Stu Forster / Getty Images for the ECB
Meanwhile, all of this is taking place in an unprecedented downtime scenario. Cricket West Indies has cut the salaries of its players and staff in half. Afghanistan’s coaches have had their salaries reduced. Cricket Australia launched a drastic and drastic cost reduction campaign that ended up costing the job of Chief Executive Kevin Roberts. Even India, the game’s financial bloodstream, has been forced into savings, with no revenue from the Indian Premier League and its new sponsorship deal with Nike is estimated to fall by 30% in the last.
This is the fragile and fearful landscape in which international cricket returns and what is already certain is that the game that emerges from the pandemic will look very different from the one that inserted it. With the bilateral series becoming even less viable, international cricket may end up losing more ground to the franchise’s T20 leagues. If that sounds like doomsday, then, with a little imagination and foresight, it doesn’t have to be that way.
The contraction of international cricket and trips abroad could end up reconnecting us with our long neglected national clubs and leagues. New ideas and innovations – yes, even 3 Team Cricket – may have room to flourish. “As the role of money decreases,” notes Tristan Holme, a cricket writer from Zimbabwe, in an excellent Cricbuzz article, “the cultural value of competitions will have a greater influence on determining which games will be played.”
What about the cricket test? Inevitably, there will be less, but what remains may turn out to be more significant as a result. With the right promotion, the oldest and slowest form of the game can even find its niche. Perhaps in a market dominated by size, volume, noise and immediacy, a game that lasts for a long time and is restricted to some prestigious equipment, offers an irresistible point of difference.
Perhaps, on second thought, this is the break the test cricket has been waiting for: a chance to lean in its empty seats, make a virtue of its stillness, embrace the silence.