The Hundred got under way at the Oval on Wednesday evening
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Tactics? In hit and giggle? You bet. Because it’s not really hit and giggle, not at least as far as the players are concerned. It might have been a summer party mood in the stands but on pitch it was focused intent.
Pre-tournament, Eoin Morgan described the atmosphere in the men’s white ball dressing room as being filled with "guys […] champing at the bit to win bragging rights", viewing The Hundred as a real opportunity "to come in and stake their claim" for the upcoming T20 World Cup. For the women, just as much. Tactics, therefore, were a serious thing, so how did they unfold?
Ten-ball bowler banker
Finger pointing, field marshalling, bowler rotating – someone seemed to know what they were doing, at least. At the first time of asking, the Oval Invincibles’ captain Dane van Niekerk deployed the "double play" (can we call it that? I think we can, the terms they are evolving), opting to keep her opening bowler Marizanne Kapp on for a full five-ball double so yes, ten in a row. It worked; Kapp poached her first scalp for a duck.
Strategic time out – don’t forget it
For a game which sells itself on its brevity, with broadcast schedules at stake, having a strategic time out was… an odd choice. And the Oval Invincibles evidently thought so too, not taking theirs until 85 balls in. Without the natural break between overs, it seemed less about analytics and more about stealing a bit of breathing space trying to work out who still had 10 (or was it five balls?) still left to bowl.
Penalising slow bowling rates, a nice idea but…
Seventy-three minutes, maybe even 74? That’s how long it took to bowl the first innings. It was meant to be 65, a good deal less than the 75 minutes Twenty20 cricket was originally slated for. You might expect the first game to drag a little, but drag a lot and that’s where the rules and regs were supposed to kick in – the Invincibles should have been losing one fielder from outside the circle for every ball they are slow. Only it never happened. Nice idea, but is it practical? Rule with an iron fist, I say.
Dividing by five is quite helpful
"You can just count them on one hand," was Kate Cross’ answer when asked how she might keep abreast of five-ball, rather than six-ball, overs. And the Manchester Originals’ skipper is right, of course, those five-times tables were a damn-sight easier to learn than anything else. Sure, we can scoff at the simplicity of it all, but it makes for straight-forward run rates, strike rates and everything else in between. We just have to unlearn the old stuff, I think (blasphemy, I know).
Big hitters: big bonus
Fewer balls to play with means you want your stand-and-deliver players doing just that. Lizelle Lee, Dane van Niekerk, take a bow – the kind of batters who deal in boundaries rather than anything more exertive. Bombs away.
Lizelle Lee found form in the tournament opener
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Those white cards? Is that your notepad?
Used by the umpires to signal every five balls bowled it looked a bit… like the back of a notepad. Didn’t quite work. Conjured images of Neville Chamberlain as he stepped off that plane, waving aloft his bit of paper.
Growing pains, of course
There was confusion, of course. Because there’s an element of working it out as we go along. This is new to both fans, players and, lest we forget, the umpires too. When a Shabnim Ismail bumper, above head height, got called a no-ball, "free hit" came the umpire’s ensuing call. Quickly reversed though because, no free hits for that kind of no ball. We’re all learning.
Verdict: It works
A last over, sorry last five-ball, thriller. It’s still cricket, after all. That was fun.