Thursday 22nd July 2021 – The Hundred at The Oval, London
“So, what was it really like?” was a question I was asked a dozen or so times after posting on Social Media that I was at the opening night of the Men’s Hundred got underway on Thursday night at the Oval.
It is hard to pick out the salient points without being too critical. After all, this wasn’t a new sport but a marketing-driven tinkering of the rules to try and appeal to a more diverse audience. So, where do we start?
Let’s start with the end and work backwards. It was a decent game of cricket, which finished under an orange moon rising over the pavilion, with Manchester Originals never quite looking like the winning team but until those final ten balls, never being quite out of it. Chasing a score of 145 seemed possible, especially with a strategy of hit bit or get out trying.
There aren’t many material changes to the game itself. 10 x sets of 10 balls at each end, which means the umpires won’t get their steps in. Whilst the bowling side has the the option to swap bowlers at the five ball mark, the trend seem to allow a bowler to bowl all ten deliveries in a row. Despite having 20 less balls than a T20 innings, it still takes as long as there are reviews and time-outs, all excuses to switch the screens to a DJ who is pretending to “spin the decks”, playing tunes that the crowd don’t want to hear.
Over 18,000 fans came to the Oval, partly intrigued by the hype, encouraged by decent pricing and overwhelming throwing off the shackles of lockdown. Last Sunday, Kent Spitfires final T20 game at Canterbury was played in front of a sedate crowd of a couple of thousand. Here the crowd was loud and proud. Despite having every bar open in the ground, queues were building on the concourses when we arrived 45 minutes before the start.
With ticketing all through the Hundred App, entry into the Oval was swift. It’s a great idea to have anything tied to the App, except when one of your party wants to go to the loo and doesn’t have the app, which then means they have to phone you so that you can go to the stairwell to show their ticket to the steward who just saw them exit the stand a minute earlier.
The biggest issue will be getting fans to buy into a team. The Oval Invincibles are technically my local team but as a Kent fan, should I be supporting them, or London Spirit where Zac Crawley is playing? Phil Salt, Sussex’ explosive opening bat was playing tonight for the Manchester Originals. He’s not “originally” from Manchester (he was born in Wales), and has never played for Lancashire, so was his place in the Originals due to his visit to the Hacienda in the 90s? Despite the wall to wall marketing (big up to the PR agency for that) there were few fans wearing the Green shirts around the ground. When T20 was created, the fans still had their counties to support.
Talking of the shirts, I liked the idea of each team being sponsored by a snack. For that one factor I am a London Spirit fan, as they are sponsored by Tyrells. But surely there was a missed trick in not having the sponsors giving away free KP snacks?
The teams emerged to flame guns and loud music, with the batsmen walking through a doorway which looks like it came from the Generation Game prop archive. A countdown to the first ball, fireworks set off on the roof of the Pavilion and the JM Finn stand and body cameras on bowlers and batsmen.
The top order of the Oval Invincibles is certainly one of the strongest in the competition. Jason Roy, Sam Curran, Sunil Narine, Will Jacks, Sam Billings. That’s a run machine and a half. Unfortunately, none of the bar Billings got their eye in to get a decent score. The Kent player was out one short of his half century from 30 balls. Tom Curran’s 29 from 18 balls saw the home side post what looked like a decent score.
Innings break and time for some music from the main act, who we think was someone called Jack Garratt, who got to play 2 or 3 songs to a crowd that was too busy singing songs about Gareth Southgate, Sweet Caroline and not going home to hear him. That and the DJ interludes are completely unnecessary to build the atmosphere.
Manchester opened with Phil Salt, who was on fire a month ago in the T20 for Sussex. Having seen his last two knocks that have lasted a combined total of 5 balls, it looked like he had put that poor form behind him when he hit the first ball of the innings away for four. Four balls later and he was out. The Originals simply couldn’t find any consistency. At the halfway point they only had 60 on the board, with the big hitting batsmen back in the pavilion. But Carlos Braithwaite fancied making a night of it, scoring 37 in 29 balls and giving them a slither of hope. But when he went, caught by Jason Roy it was all but over.
There was confusion with three balls to go and fourteen needed when a no-ball was signalled. A free hit yes, but in the Hundred there is no extra ball, leading to a situation where most of the crowd thought they needed ten from two balls when it was really just one.
So Oval Invincibles won and the 18,000 crowd went home pretty happy with their evening, although probably still a bit confused as to what the essence of the Hundred really was. Was it a success? That depends on how you measure success. A sell out crowd – tick. A great atmosphere – tick. Adventurous and risk-free batting – tick. Great fielding – tick. So what about the negatives? Unnecessary delays, unnecessary DJ and music acts but little else really to criticise. The main complaint will be what damage will it do to the existing competitions, such as the Royal London Cup. Time will only tell on that one but for now, jump in with two feet and try to enjoy the ride.