A loyal county cricket fan decided to experience the Hundred first-hand at The Oval. Here's what he made of it.
The Hundred is supposedly English cricket's Brexit; a contentious new format that has polarised opinion. Despite the nagging sense that I was betraying my loyalty to county cricket, it still felt important to be at The Oval for the first-ever match of the Hundred, if only to see what all the fuss was about. Perhaps it will turn out to be a significant "I Was There" moment or it could just end up as a curious footnote in cricket's long history.
I was determined to view the game through the lens of open-mindedness rather than scepticism, but I was also aware that middle-aged me is not really the demographic that the ECB marketing team is so desperate to attract. So I thought it would make sense to invite my nine-year-old nephew and experience the game through his eyes. Unfortunately, as it was a school night, he wasn't allowed to join me. Even though two hours and 30 minutes might seem like a short time for a cricket match, the 6.30pm start creates a finish time that's too late for many kids, just one small example of the organisers shooting themselves in the foot.
Watching county cricket as a solo spectator is almost the norm: during County Championship matches at The Oval, the stands are flecked with the odd person against a vast backdrop of empty upturned seats. On this occasion, I was very much the exception, as groups of families and young friends were in the majority. It was in keeping with the general theme of the evening, when almost every assumption associated with a game of cricket was challenged.
I'm ashamed to admit that the last time I went to a women's cricket match was about ten years ago and I've only kept loose tabs on the women's game. That changed after England's 2017 World Cup win and the increasing visibility of the women's game on TV and radio. And having watched much of the recent England series against India, my interest was certainly piqued.
I recognised Kate Cross from that recent series, as well as from presenting a popular BBC podcast which also features her team-mate Alex Hartley. Cross picked up two wickets in two balls and three altogether .Her second wicket, a ball viciously jagging back to hit middle stump, was the best of the lot.
The batting partnership between real-life partners Dane van Niekerk and Marizanne Kapp broke the back of the chase for the Oval Invincibles. The cameo innings by Mady Villiers, including a much-needed six, was also vital. But it was the brief innings of the Manchester Originals' Harmanpreet Kaur that really caught the eye. She appeared to have much more time and timing than anyone else. Early in her innings, she hit four fours in five balls, the best boundary being a flowing cover drive which sent the ball skipping to the rope.
One thing I'd change
It's difficult to boil it down to one thing! I ended up with a long mental note of things that need improving. The most fundamental issue is the format itself. Doing away with overs in favour of five-ball sets is difficult to get used to. Similarly deciphering a scoreboard that doesn't show total runs scored, in favour of runs required and the waving of a white card by umpires to signify a ten-ball over (at least that's what I think it meant) are also alien concepts. A bit like learning to bat left-handed after a lifetime of holding the bat the opposite way.
There was always going to be an element of people taking time to understand the new format, even more so for those who are entirely new to the sport. There were lots of quizzical looks among groups of fans at the start of the game and conversations about what exactly was going on in the middle, and I felt no embarrassment about being confused myself. The giant screen showing runs and balls only was self-explanatory but the more detailed scoreboard on the smaller screen was almost impenetrable. Interestingly the largest scoreboard, the non-digital one, was made redundant: it's layout sadly deemed no longer fit for purpose. It might seem like a minor detail but to not show partnership runs detracted from the overall narrative of the game. In general, the short five-ball sets initially seemed to make things feel a bit disjointed and caused the game to lack rhythm.
Easily the best thing about the evening was the crowd. Exactly how many were paying customers is a moot point, as many were enticed by complimentary tickets. In any case, the largest crowd for an English domestic women's game was exactly how the organisers wanted it to be: diverse. People weren't obsessed about refilling empty pint glasses; instead the crowd felt innocent and totally intent on enjoying the occasion. It reminded me of crowds at the 2012 London Olympics, which had a similar feel-good undertone. It was very different to the crowds found at the Oval for a T20 Blast match, when the frenetic energy of after-work drinkers can sometimes blur the line between fun and rowdiness.
The pre-match fireworks, the DJ and the music during the interval were all lapped up by the crowd. The most memorable thing were the shrieks of delight from youngsters towards the end of the Oval Invincibles' chase. With 10 balls remaining and 16 runs required, the crowd played a big part in getting the home team across the line.
Marks out of 10
A strangely satisfying 7. As I tried to let the game wash over me rather than judge its shortcomings, I feared I wouldn't really be invested in the outcome. I only knew a few of the players on show and most of them were playing for the away team, the Manchester Originals. But then I noticed that the crowd didn't really seem to care who was scoring the runs or taking wickets, they were just enjoying each boundary and catch as an exciting event in itself. I decided to take my cue from them and try and revel in the slightly weird moment, and it almost worked.
Want to do a Fan Following report? Read our FAQ here.