It bodes well for the game of cricket and especially Test cricket in the context of a World Test championship, when a series hangs in the balance heading into the final Test. However, the rather long gap between the second and third Tests between England and South Africa has given time and food for thought, as teams regroup as do cricket boards, with a bigger eye on their franchisee cricket ambitions looming not far on the horizon.

The incessant buzz in the background needed white noise to drown it out. Test cricket, that lasted barely six days, could only do so much. But in hindsight, it might be enough, for now. With the third and deciding Test now scheduled to get underway on the 8th of September, it might be more to the point that perspective is needed in terms of how the results panned out and what it means in the overall context of the game.

For starters, in the wake of an innings and 85 runs defeat in the second Test at Old Trafford, Manchester, South Africa's hand seems forced in terms of having to make changes. The finger fracture to Rassie van der Dussen is a massive blow in terms of a steadying hand while Aiden Markram might be one of the players to come under the radar over the string of low scores. Although South Africa had the right idea when they employed two spinners for the second Test, conditions might dictate otherwise when they head to south London and the Oval.

But the bigger worries yet for South Africa are not only how South Africa went from being poised at the top of the points percentage in the World Test championship at the start of the series to losing their footing after winning the first Test at Lord's inside three days rain notwithstanding but also, whether their own Test cricket future will continue to hold relevance at a time when the cricket board is gearing up for its most ambitious relaunch yet of their version of a Twenty20 league.

It is interesting to see what a break will do for both teams, although it must be more likely to say England will breathe a lot easier than South Africa will. The defeat at Old Trafford, Manchester will have dented South Africa's confidence, particularly coming into the series as the top team in the World Test championship rankings but not being marked as favourites ahead of the series at a time when the England's reconstituted banner was flying high under new leader, Ben Stokes, over the English summer.

South Africa upset the apple cart at Lord's, causing England subsequently to feel relieved that they could immediately avenge for this summer's massive embarrassment with an almost identical innings victory result in an almost similar time frame, neither Test lasting the duration of five days but causing some tense and absorbing moments with the match poised on a knife's edge at delicate times. It has put a reality check on the series, on the two cricket nations, on the World Test championship and on Test cricket itself.

Although England are enjoying a good summer, made to feel more exceptional under new captain Ben Stokes who replaced Joe Root after the debacle that was the Ashes, that there is a significant innings defeat that has made the record now five out of six Tests and that it needed the kind of stupendous win that England enjoyed at Old Trafford to obliterate any recurring haunting memories that were part of the Ashes sojourn just goes to show how fragile Test status can be as also, outlook when England have to undergo a leadership change and also, justify having someone as raw and unique like New Zealander Brendon McCullum as their national coach.

Root was not diplomatic at the end of the Ashes about England having put all their eggs in the basket of addressing their lack of World Cup trophies in limited overs matches, at the cost of protecting and promoting Test cricket. Where he did not go far enough was to suggest that the ECB had originally toyed with the Twenty20, exporting it more successfully abroad while helping itself none at home, they had now gone the route of the Hundred, abandoning the century old format in the immediacy.

While Eoin Morgan, England and even Ben Stokes enjoyed a rare moment under the sun, albeit at the cost of New Zealand at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 on home ground, there was a sense that the right balance had not been struck which Root as the Test captain at the time felt undermined by as England's Test ambitions hung in limbo.

The question then becomes: whether it is even possible for cricket boards to have balanced ambitions at a time when split captaincy and fractured teams have been contemplated, and for a time implemented, to not only accommodate existing obligations but also, meet financial burdens? Is this the way of the future or the beginning of cricket's disintegration when all round talent such as Stokes, only as young as 31 years of age, make choices about formats and retirements, not only keeping their own mental health in mind but also, the burden of expectations across all formats while also, trying to manage a sustainable financial career at the peak of their prowess?

Stokes stated after the second Test that the Lord's defeat was forgotten in history. But even he would know that England had to rally on the back of defiant centuries from himself and Ben Foakes and have a 40 year James Anderson strike poignantly with the ball as the latter rewrote the history book, overtaking Glenn McGrath for most number of wickets by a pacer in Test cricket. One defeat was all it took to rankle the minds about this newfound euphoria this summer and also, about the invincible aura they have been trying to create, easily dismantled by a fragile and fractured South Africa in the course of one Test.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) did not succeed in haggling the broadcasters and had to acquiesce to ensuring that Test series and tours from next season will end before August when football season officially gets underway in yet another evidence of dwindling interest in cricket over not only exorbitant but also, prohibitive cricket cost as it airs on cable instead of free-to-air television which doesn't seem such an issue for them. They do have eyes on their local product, the Hundred, though as a way to counter the Twenty20 phenomenon and also, attempt to create a niche market for themselves although it is yet to catch on as they had intended.

Cricket South Africa are meanwhile going all out about their latest version of a Twenty20 league, with Graeme Smith admitting as much that not launching the league at the set date was akin to losing bankable players to new and existing leagues such as the one in the Gulf, and seriously jeopardizing Cricket South Africa's commercial interests, already under immense cracking pressure over corruption within the board and talent drain across the nation over the past decade.

Not a few months ago, South Africa's Test captain, Dean Elgar, and South Africa's coach, Mark Boucher, demanded a loyalty test as to the number of players that stayed for the Bangladesh tour while the Indian Premier League 2022 season was about to get underway. With Graeme Smith now putting his efforts into promoting the Twenty20 league, it seems that even with the one result going their way and the deciding Test's fate up in the air as well as a potential place in the World Test championship final next year, South Africa's future fate as a potential formidable Test cricket nemesis might have been decided for them.

In a scenario where Twenty20 franchisees have become a necessary evil in terms of adding to the cash registers at the cricket boards, they have also threatened a crowded, compacted and mismanaged cricket calendar, putting some formats under needless undue pressure. Ironically they have also put the interests of associate members on life support, their qualification for the World Cups nowhere near enough to showcase their talent or attract financial sustenance themselves.

All this, while the shift towards Twenty20 leagues has not allayed fears about the ability of the game to sustain champion players in terms of longevity, Ben Stokes the latest to stoke the fires having announced his retirement from one day internationals, all at the age of 31. It has put the one day internationals on the radar of poachers who would much rather have the extinct animal stuffed and hanging on the wall of trophies rather pour new life into the sport that has sustained the game thus far, bridging the game between traditional fans and the more modern, seasonal and even tournament-temperamental fans which cricket has attracted with leagues like the IPL.

While the cricket world is in danger of shrinking, too many permanent member teams are becoming far too reliable on one series or two to make up the bulk of their revenue which is a huge matter of concern as it polarizes an already steady cricket diet. Even within the context of the big three, there has been no exception.

Cricket Australia needs a fillip as far as their Big Bash League ambitions go. After years of persistence, they haven't come even close to matching the Indian Premier League (IPL) in terms of rolling out the moolah. With the introduction of the limited overs competition in the Gulf which will clash with Cricket South Africa's Twenty20 revamp, and losing high stakes players like David Warner to foreign leagues, it is a real competition for the club franchisee format and for the coffers of the cricket board. Where Cricket Australia seem to have scored a win is in having India extend the length of their tour and play the additional Test, which they had bargained in vain in the course of the pandemic year, willing to forgo hosting the ICC Twenty20 World Cup for the tour of India alone which says something about the game itself.

There has been talk, in the wake of such a glut of leagues which have proved to be far too enticing and lucrative to retain players in national interests, of whether Twenty20 and such formats are better relegated to World Cup showdowns and club franchises, and the format of fifty overs perhaps abandoned altogether.

When it comes to the subject of Test cricket, which is where the present series comes into play, at a time when teams like India, England and Australia are maximizing the clout over the game, with India set to play five Test bilateral series against both, England and Australia, in the next Future Tours Programme cycle, South Africa have had to pivot completely to throwing their hat into the ring to make what is essentially their third attempt at a viable Twenty20 league as their launch vehicle to keep the ship afloat.

If Australia's refusal to tour South Africa towards the end of the pandemic put paid to their national cricket interests, the Cricket South Africa's decision to forgo the one day internationals in Australia early next year in lieu of the Twenty20 league has put a spanner in the works of the team qualifying as part of the World Cup Super League to feature in the next fifty overs a side ICC Cricket World Cup. This is not only jeopardizing the southern African nation's historic pride but takes away significantly from the primacy of ICC held events of World Cup prestige.

What a strong showing and a victory on top it at the Oval will do is keep the flag flying over Test cricket interests and more so in the context of South Africa as a competitive component of world cricket's permanent membership. With the carrot at the end of the stick being the World Test championship which was a real humdinger and surprise package as New Zealand pipped Australia to make the final and then England to win the inaugural championship, it might not translate much financially. But it will still keep South Africa on the map and that is one step away from putting world cricket on the ventilator in terms of retaining its tradition and originality.

As focus has shifted to the ICC Twenty20 World Cup and more importantly, to the mushrooming once more of franchisee cricket on a war footing around the world which will bunch up again in a couple of months' time, Test cricket remains on a knife's edge, the England-South Africa series keeping the World Test championship suspenseful at a time when both teams have been accusing of burying the game in the process of keeping their board's other commercial interests alive.