MARTIN SAMUEL: The great thing about the Hundred is that no one cares whether you look at the cricket or not
The BBC caught little Rosie for a chat during the first cricket season. Did she like it? Yes, she confirmed excitedly. What was her favorite part? “The fireworks,” she explained. “The colors were really cool and beautiful.”
She sounded like she would come again. A Surrey member in the making, day four against Gloucestershire, probably not. But that’s not the point of The Hundred.
The aim of The Hundred was this: an evening of family fun and an entry route for children and others traditionally not drawn to cricket. Actually, that’s not true either.
The Hundred opened its doors in dramatic fashion for the first time with fireworks fire
The Oval Invincibles took on the Manchester Originals in London on Wednesday evening
The aim of The Hundred was to give the ECB something of their own that they could market and hard sell globally. They hate that they transferred the wonderful Twenty20 concept to the provinces and wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
This time they took the possessions of the provinces – the players – and a little bit of their identities, and created something almost new. It seems to be in direct opposition to much of the domestic game, but if it succeeds, cricket will be reformed with The Hundred at its core. And if not? Well, the house may collapse; but we still have a good two or three years to figure out who was responsible if that happens.
And there’s no doubt, for the women’s game, The Hundred is huge.
Not only Rosie was in love with the fireworks. The reaction of Emma Lamb and Lizelle Lee, the opening acts of Manchester Originals, when the red, white and green rockets took off from the ground on either side as they walked out, was truly moving, as if they couldn’t quite believe all this excitement before them.
The fireworks blinded even Manchester Originals openers Emma Lamb and Lizelle Lee
It spoke of a game longing for projection and status, suddenly thrust into the spotlight. Lamb was, literally, open-mouthed at what she saw – and perhaps that explained the random nature of the first five-ball over.
The first delivery in the history of the new league was a rather disjointed broad one. The next, Lee left, which was sort of an anti-climax. She played around third, and after she hit the target, Lamb fell for a duck. The fireworks, unfortunately, were as good as they were for her.
Cynically we can of course wonder whether that was the case for many here. The youngest members of the audience were buzzing, but when not? That’s the beauty of children. They are set to ‘Go’ from the moment they wake up. They would enjoy a test match as long as you didn’t let them watch the cricket.
If it was just the ice cream stand, watching men in white uniforms with Mom and Dad for ten minutes, and the next two hours playing on the picnic field with their friends, Test Cricket could be one of their favorite days out. And the great thing about The Hundred is that no one really cares whether you watch the cricket or not.
The brand new cricket format provides entertainment for cricket newcomers and regulars alike
One of the scoreboards at The Oval barely showed who was batting, or bowling, or even how many wickets had fallen – which is pretty vital information in a chase. It said 90 runs were needed with 63 balls left – but that’s only half the story in the second innings, when there are four wickets.
However, halfway through the Manchester Originals innings, the biggest cheers had come for a girl chosen at random from the crowd, who then turned out to have a beautiful voice. Again, if what you absolutely love in life is cricket, there are other forms of the game available.
And yet, where is the evil? Ignore that question if you’re responding in political terms. We all see the machinations of the ECB and how the provinces should think about it.
We know that the ultimate goal is not fun, fun, fun, but money, money, money, as the ECB sells its Hundred brand all over the world. Imagine cricket becoming an Olympic sport with The Hundred being the format that would most appeal to non-cricket nations.
An entertainment show between the innings and a DJ set were part of the experience at the Oval
We can see the flaws in that too, mind. Why would India want to import a rival to the IPL, or would Australia water down its Big Bash? And it’s not that other versions of The Hundred aren’t foreseeable. For example, five and six balls work with the number 90, and then who pays the ECB?
Still, it was impossible to begrudge the sport this hopeful moment on Wednesday evening. Sure, the mix of genders, races, ages in the crowd was what the ECB had hoped for, and so was the festival mood.
Before the venue was full, a teenage son could be spotted with a slightly bruised face as his mother tried some dance moves on the DJ’s set. In the end, no one was ashamed to join the party.
This was a half-full arena with many free tickets, so it might get a little louder tonight when the men’s teams repeat this match, in front of a packed house.
The Hundred was far from full, but the tournament is organized differently than the T20 Blast
The Hundred is pitched very differently from those drunken Twenty20 Friday nights, but it’s not like there’s no alcohol for sale in the ground – as a girls’ choir from Sweet Caroline lashed out during the second innings timeout seemed to confirm.
Cricket for people who don’t like cricket? In some ways, yes. Sure it’s cricket for people who aren’t all there for the cricket, but for the experience, the night out – at 9pm is the promise – and the leaving fun. Whether it can sustain this level of happy enthusiasm remains to be seen.
This was the first day, in a big city, at the end of a lovely warm day when anyone who knew even a nod at cricket had been instructed to find it all wonderfully charming. And they did, no matter what.
It was the sports equivalent of that moment in The Music Man where the discordant children’s orchestra turns into a radiant, marching, note-perfect marching band in their parents’ dazed eyes, and walks out of the church hall and down the street playing 78 Trombones.
The weather held out on Wednesday evening, adding to the raw atmosphere
But it also worked as a sport. At the start of their inning, 12-3, the Oval Invincibles molded the world’s most ironically named sports franchise.
Still, 18 runs needed from 12 balls – let’s keep this in numbers the old ‘uns can understand – thanks to an excellent knock from captain Dane van Niekerk, there was real grandstand finishing and genuine joy in the stands when the home side made it , and by only two balls. It was very exciting, as the decibel level confirmed.
So all in all a success. Something for those who don’t always care about cricket, something for those who do.
One hundred doesn’t make a summer, of course, but at The Oval, the fireworks were all on their way to the night sky, not dazzled by some foolishness: and we can all be really thankful for that, too.