Sunday 8th August 2021 – The Hundred at The Oval, London
Farcical…that is the only word that can describe most of what happened at The Oval on Sunday. If the core aim of the Hundred is to win new fans and showcase an exciting new side to an already established global game then the organisers need to be sitting down and asking some serious questions of why the event left most fans annoyed if not angry.
First things first. Nobody can tame the weather. So the heavy overnight showers that continued into the morning in South East London could not have been avoided. But we are talking about one of the best test cricket venues in the world here and so pitch protection is first class. There’s no slight here on the ground staff who I am sure did an exemplary job in preparing the ground but somewhere there seems to have been an issue which didn’t satisfy the umpires.
Come 3pm when the crowds were in their seats for the Women’s game between The Oval Invincibles and Trent Rockets there was no play possible. The outfield, according to the umpires, wasn’t fit…that was the same outfield that was being used by the two teams to warm up, including playing football. Announcements, according to those there for the first game were few and far between, with some fans having to rely on phoning other people who were watching the game on TV for updates.
Eventually, with inspections being rescheduled, just before 5pm the game was abandoned without a ball being bowled. The last rain had hit the area around 3pm, for approximately 20 minutes.
We arrived just before the 7pm start for the Men’s game to witness both teams still warming up on the pitch. The ground staff were busy weaving and ducking in between them but the scene looked normal – there was going to be a delayed start but not a show-stopper. The lack of any audible announcements was really poor. We could hear the DJ pumping out her mix of tunes, but any meaningful updates for the 20,000-strong crowd? Nothing.
Then just after 7pm we were told there would be an inspection at 7:45pm. For what? No rain for nearly 5 hours, players being able to use the pitch. Why? There was some further activity in one area of the pitch on the boundary, which based on the moveable boundary, could have been reduced. Absolutely zero in the way of communication to the fans, who made their feelings felt when the delay was announced.
The umpires appeared at the appointed time to a chorus of boos. They spent no more than 30 seconds looking at the problem areas and went inside. We were going to have cricket but not for another 35 minutes. That went down well. The teams hadn’t even done the toss and the further unnecessary delay led to a reduced game of 65 balls a team.
A 130-ball innings. Essentially, a T20 innings with 10 wides or no balls. An hour and fifteen tops, with a ten minute break. Wrong. The game just dragged, partly due to an injury to Alex Hales who was hit in the nether regions by Topley with two consecutive balls, but the pointless tactical time outs (what is the point of the timer?), reviews, conferences between each rotation of ends and batsmen dragging their feet and bat leaving the pitch. At 22:11, when the Trent Rockets innings should have ended there was still 15 balls to go. With 5 balls to go The Invincibles called a 2 minute time out. By 10:35pm the home side had won convincingly, but some fans had been in their seats for 8 hours and seen very little cricket. That’s hardly going to win them over to the “new” format of the game.
It is a shame because in the middle of that there was some fantastic cricket. The Invincibles scored a total worthy of winning a full 100 ball innings, with Jason Roy carrying his bat in an innings of 56 off 29 balls. He had cameo support, with nobody bar fellow opener Will Jacks making it to double figures – in fact extras was the second highest scorer of the innings. Nine sixes and three dropped catches enlivened the proceedings, although a fair amount of alcohol may have had a hand in that.
D’Arcy Short faced the first set of five bowled by spinner Narine. His form in the T20 Blast for Hampshire Hawks has been really impressive and when the chips are down he’s the man for a run chase. Except here where he lasted just three balls before he swept the ball around the corner straight into the hands of Mahmood. 0-1.
Dawid Malan is a decent player to have coming in and him and Alex Hales started to put together a partnership, scoring quickly but in the 4th over he got all confused between his bat and his feet, allowing a ball from Narine to go through the gate and bowl him. 27-2 off 3.4 overs.
Oval Invincibles needed to tame Alex Hales so they brought on Reece Topley. They probably didn’t expect him to maim rather than tame Hales but two consecutive balls smashed him in the “midrift”. The first one caused some concern from the players and led to some lengthy treatment. “Don’t rub them, count them!” said one of the fans amusingly. He was in stitches a minute or so later when Topley’s next ball struck him in exactly the same place. Despite their best efforts, the players around him found it hard to stop their laughter. Perhaps it was no surprise that he was clean-bowled by Narine a few minutes later, by which time the Rockets were a long way behind the run rate.
And so it came down to the last fifteen balls. Time was officially up but still there were three “overs” to go. The visitors needed 3 a ball – almost an impossible ask. But they gave it a go, especially Lewis Gregory who hit 28 off 12 balls and almost gave the Rockets a bit of hope, but the innings just faded away and the Invincibles won by nine runs.
It was a good game but the circumstances around it can’t be ignored. The approach of the Hundred so far in terms of acting on feedback from fans hasn’t been great – with less than two weeks to go until it ends, let’s hope that actually listen to the fans and make the changes necessary.