South Africa spinner Keshav Maharaj has come out in support of the ODI Super League, which will be scrapped after the current cycle and will not form a part of the new FTP cycle.
Maharaj, who is standing in as South Africa's captain in the absence of the injured Temba Bavuma in England, argued that the league not only contextualises bilateral ODI cricket, but forces countries to field their best XIs, which they otherwise may not do in a packed schedule.
"It's good to have the Super League. It makes you play your best cricket throughout the year and allows you to come up with various styles of play that you want to implement at the World Cup," Maharaj said, ahead of South Africa's ODI series against England. "I think it's a good system. You've got to play your best team at all times. I'm in favour of it."
Ironically, the three-match series does not form part of the Super League (South Africa will host England for World Cup Super League matches in February next year), and South Africa are resting their highest-ranked ODI bowler Kagiso Rabada for the matches. Even more ironically, South Africa have opted out of Super League ODIs against Australia next January because the board wants the best players available for a new franchise T20 competition which it says will secure the game's financial longevity, and has left South Africa's chances of qualifying for the 2023 World Cup hanging by a thread.
The players are understood to be disappointed but understanding of the decision and would have preferred to play in Australia if only to give themselves more of a chance to ensure they wouldn't have to play in the qualifiers in Zimbabwe next year.
If all that makes you wonder what the point of the upcoming England series is, Maharaj has an answer. "It's important for us as an ODI unit to keep playing together. The more you play the better you get," he said. "It's still an international cricket game, so there's enough motivation. And it's build-up for a series that does carry points. I'm so glad we're playing it leading up to an important summer and year for us. In the next two years there are a lot of ICC events coming up, and it's a nice way of finding combinations you want to play going forward."
Maharaj's comments came minutes before England's Ben Stokes announced his decision to retire from ODI cricket because playing in all three formats is "just unsustainable for me," and will further add to the debate around the viability of bilateral cricket, especially ODIs.
For South Africa, this will come into sharper focus as the World Cup approaches. They sit 11th on the World Cup Super League table and dropped points in Ireland and Sri Lanka while still struggling to find an ideal XI. Maharaj hopes these matches can help them do that. "We could build some confidence in our ODI unit before the World Cup next year," he said.