MARTIN SAMUEL: No-one is bothered whether you watch The Hundred or not

MARTIN SAMUEL: The beauty of The Hundred is that no-one is greatly bothered whether you watch the cricket or not… whether it can sustain the level of happy enthusiasm at The Oval, we are yet to see

  • The new Hundred tournament kicked off on Wednesday night at the Oval 
  • The Oval Invincibles defeated the Manchester Originals to kickstart the event
  • A pre-match firework display dazzled the players and fans in the London ground
  • The Oval was not full on Wednesday but it set the tone for an exciting new format

The BBC grabbed little Rosie for a chat during cricket’s first time out. Was she enjoying it? Yes, she confirmed excitedly. What was her favourite part? ‘The fireworks,’ she declared. ‘The colours were really cool, and pretty.’

She sounded as if she’d come again. A Surrey member in the making, day four against Gloucestershire, probably not. Yet that isn’t the point of The Hundred. 

The point of The Hundred was this: a night of family fun and a route of entry for kids and others who would not traditionally be drawn to cricket. Actually, that’s not true either. 

The Hundred opened its doors for the first time in dramatic fashion with firework displays

The Oval Invincibles took on the Manchester Originals in London on Wednesday night

The point of The Hundred was to give the ECB something of their very own that they could market worldwide, and sell hard. They hate that they surrendered the beautiful Twenty20 concept to the counties and weren’t going to make the same mistake twice. 

This time, they took the counties’ assets – the players – and a little of their identities, and created something almost new. It appears to run in direct opposition to much of the domestic game but if it succeeds, cricket will be reshaped with The Hundred at its core. And if it doesn’t? Well, the house may fall down; but we’ve got a good two or three years to work out who was responsible if that happens.

And there is no doubt, for the women’s game, The Hundred is huge. 

It wasn’t just Rosie that was in love with the firework display. The reaction of Manchester Originals openers Emma Lamb and Lizelle Lee as the red, white and green rockets took off from both ends of the ground as they walked out was genuinely touching, as if they couldn’t quite believe all this excitement was for them. 

The firework display even dazzled 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, quite literally, open-mouthed, at what she saw – and maybe that explained the random nature of the initial five-ball over. 

The first delivery in the history of the new competition was a rather unedifying wide. The next, Lee left, which was something of an anti-climax. She played around the third, and having got off the mark, Lamb fell for a duck. The fireworks, sadly, were as good as it got for her.

Cynically, of course, we could ponder whether that was true for many here. The youngest members of the audience were buzzing but then when are they not? That’s the great thing with kids. They’re set to ‘Go’ from the moment they wake up. They’d enjoy a Test match as long as you didn’t make them watch the cricket. 

If it was just the ice cream stall, ten minutes of looking at men in white uniforms with mum and dad, then the next two hours playing on the picnic lawn with their mates, Test cricket could be one of their favourite days out. And the beauty of The Hundred is that no-one is greatly bothered whether you watch the cricket or not. 

The brand new cricket format gives entertainment for both cricket newcomers and regulars

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 run chase. It said 90 runs were needed with 63 balls left – but that’s only half the story in the second innings, if four wickets are down.

Still, midway through Manchester Originals innings the biggest cheer had come for a little girl picked at random from the crowd to sing, who then turned out to have a lovely voice. Again, if what you absolutely love in life is cricket, other forms of the game are available.

And yet, where’s the harm? Ignore that question if responding in political terms. We can all see the machinations of the ECB and how the counties must feel about this. 

We know that the ultimate aim is not fun, fun, fun but money, money, money as the ECB sells its Hundred brand across the globe. Imagine if cricket became an Olympic sport with The Hundred the format selected to have most appeal to non-cricketing nations. 

A between-innings entertainment show and DJ set was part of the experience at the Oval

We can see the flaws in that, too, mind. Why would India wish to import a rival to the IPL, or Australia water down its Big Bash? And it’s not as if other versions of The Hundred are not foreseeable. Five and six balls overs work with the number 90, for instance, and who pays the ECB then?

Yet on Wednesday night it was impossible to begrudge the sport this hopeful moment. Certainly, the mix of genders, races, ages in the crowd were what the ECB had hoped for, and so was the festival mood. 

Before the venue had filled, a teenage son could be spied looking mildly mortified as his mum attempted some dance moves to the DJ’s set. By the end, no-one was embarrassed to join the party. 

This was a half-full arena with many tickets given free, so maybe it will be a little more raucous on Thursday night when the men’s teams repeat this fixture, in front of a capacity crowd. 

The Hundred was far from full but the tournament is being pitched differently to the T20 Blast

The Hundred is being pitched very differently to those boozy Twenty20 Friday nights, but it is not as if alcohol is not on sale inside the ground – as one girly chorus of Sweet Caroline belted out during the second innings time out appeared to confirm.

Cricket for people who don’t like cricket? In some ways, yes. Certainly, it is cricket for people who aren’t all there for the cricket, but for the experience, the evening out – over by 9pm is the promise – and the abandoned fun. Whether it can sustain this level of happy enthusiasm, we are yet to see. 

This was day one, in a huge city, at the end of a lovely warm day when anyone who was even a nodding acquaintance with cricket appears to have been under instruction to find it all wonderfully charming. And they did, no matter what happened. 

It was sport’s equivalent of that moment in The Music Man when the discordant children’s orchestra morphs into a shining, marching, note-perfect brass band in their besotted parents eyes, and strides out of the church hall and down the street playing 78 Trombones.

The weather held out on Wednesday night which helped to add to the raucous atmosphere

Yet, equally, it worked as sport, too. At the starting of their inning, 12-3, the Oval Invincibles were shaping up as the world’s most ironically named sports franchise. 

Yet, needing 18 runs 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 a true grandstand finish, and genuine delight in the stands when the home team made it, and by just two balls. It was very exciting, as the decibel level confirmed.

So, a success all-round. Something in it for those who don’t always care for cricket, something for those who do. 

One Hundred does not a summer make, of course, but at The Oval the fireworks were all heading for the night sky, not inserted up some oaf’s bottom: and for that we can all be truly grateful, too.

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