Oval Invincibles' Sarah Bryce during the inaugural game in the new 100-ball format

Credit: AFP

The ECB’s new tournament got under way on Wednesday with the Oval Invincibles edging a thriller over the Manchester Originals with two balls to spare. But how did the divisive new format’s opening night go down? 

View from the stands – Nick Hoult

Target No 1 was comfortably ticked off for the Hundred on Wednesday night. There is no question this was a family audience and more diverse than the usual Twenty20 crowd. 

The whole format has been built for kids from simplifying the rules of cricket to shortening the game. Walking down from Vauxhall station there was a smattering of curious Surrey members, but they stood out because they didn’t have children trailing behind them. 

It may be down to the free tickets given to those signed up for Dynamos and All Stars, the board’s youth cricket programmes, but that does not matter. It is about setting the tone on opening night and this was like a Big Bash match where everything is geared towards kids having a good time. The idea being they go home perhaps not having watched the cricket but associating the sport with fun.

Entry was via the Hundred app where your tickets are stored, a canny way to grab your data and know your audience, and fans could vote for the hero of the match.

It was a world away from Old Trafford 24 hours earlier where there was a raucous sell-out 21,000 crowd, three pitch invasions and Sweet Caroline and Hi Ho Silver Lining vigorously belted out. This was a modern playlist: Calvin Harris, Dua Lipa and Becky Hill, the only Voice contestant to make a No 1-selling single, performed at the break.

And as for boisterous, the closest it came to crossing a line was someone pushing in at the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream van.

The match possibly needed more sixes to really grab the kids but the scoreboard was much simpler for them to understand and parents to explain (runs scored and balls faced became runs needed and balls left). You could tell they became more engaged as the game wore on, anticipating the fire torches going off for every four (and rare six).

Where we were sitting, nobody watched the instructions explaining the Hundred before play but who cares about powerplay rules anyway? In the end it was Twenty20 with better fireworks and captains still faffing around over moving fine leg six inches to the left.

I sat in the new Lock Stand with my family: two daughters who have never really shown any interest in cricket, probably because it is associated with me, so inevitably not cool.

Sophia, 12, was appalled to hear it would last 100 balls. “What. How long?” Somewhere, a marketing executive cried. 

When asked how many balls she thought would be perfect, she replied “10”. The Ten. Welcome to the ECB’s new competition with a start date circa 2041.

Although her 14-year-old sister Abigail was more encouraging – “I enjoyed that. It wasn’t as boring as I expected.”

Oval Invincibles' captain Dane van Niekerk was named hero of the match


View from the sceptic – Simon Heffer

In the end only one thing matters: will The Hundred entice those uninterested in cricket to become interested? I doubt it. It seems a format designed to amuse the truly stupid, and I am far from convinced that the British public contains enough people of such a low mental age to make this a wild success.

The vast numbers of empty seats at the Oval last night was a reminder that only the tiniest percentage of the millions living within a 10-mile radius of Kennington could bring themselves to attend this version of cricket, despite a big advertising campaign. 

One felt the main benefit for those attending was that they avoided a television commentary of stunning vacuity. The energetic enthusiasm of the commentators suggested a pre-match briefing about drumming up enthusiasm, hoping to convince us we were witnessing history in the making.

Of course, it may be different on Thursday night, when some players the general public might actually have heard of take the field. But that will not stop this format, stripped as it is of the culture, history, subtlety, intelligence and skill-set of real cricket, remaining the entirely forgettable exercise it was on Wednesday night, and nothing more than the marketing stunt the England and Wales Cricket Board have professed it to be.

Something supposedly designed to make cricket more ‘accessible’ – apparently synonymous with replicating an indeterminate and intensely vulgar American sporting occasion – has just bastardised the game, making it mainly about slogging by something called ‘batters’. The novelty of such things rapidly wears off.

Indeed far from expanding the reach of cricket it will, if it continues, cannibalise it. One cannot criticise players for embracing this rubbish, because they must earn a living – precarious in professional sport for all but the most gifted, and fortunate. 

But the consequent erosion of their skills seems a problem unworthy of consideration by the ECB, even though some potentially superb first-class players (Jonny Bairstow is the obvious example) have ended up struggling in real cricket through having to prostitute themselves in T20 and now spectacles such as this. 

I suspect were this absurdity being played between counties it might have a better chance of putting down roots, despite its fatuousness: there is no loyalty for the city teams with their puerile names, and never will be. The ECB might just as well have staged a rock concert with this stunt as a half-time entertainment. But then, perhaps, that is exactly what they have done.

View from the sofa – Rob Bagchi

The BBC’s coverage had to try to square the circle of appealing to the uninitiated viewers who are the entire raison d’etre of this new format and those for whom this is still the game they love … but not as they know it.

Mostly it struck the right balance, following the arresting opening theme by Nayana IZ employed to emphasise the contemporary, urban nature of this competition with the three hosts of the hugely successful Tailenders podcast – Greg James, Felix White and England’s James Anderson – to assuage us that this was “like cricket but shorter” as they rattled through the innovations.

Anderson was skilfully set up as the quizzical one, persuaded by the other two’s arguments that there was nothing here to frighten the horses, and he was on hand at the change of innings to extol “the incredible atmosphere”.

Presenter Isa Guha also augmented the commentary team of Test Match Special regulars Michael Vaughan and Phil Tufnell who kept the tone light and were obviously mindful of their brief, jargon-busting their own use of the game’s long-established vernacular, from explaining the movement of a leg-break to the laws surrounding a stumping.

There it is! Captain Dane van Niekerk hits the winning runs and the Oval Invincibles win the first-ever match in The Hundred!

📺 BBC Two
💻 https://t.co/fffU9o3qCz#thehundred #bbccricket pic.twitter.com/clJ0dzEYVz

— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) July 21, 2021

If their chat sometimes flirted with memories of their appearances on Strictly Come Dancing, particularly when trying to convince Carlos Brathwaite to appear on the show after he busted some moves during the interval, it is no more than they have been doing on the radio for years.

Brathwaite and Heather Knight, the England captain, were in the curious position of participating at one remove, as they are playing in the competition and are in bubbles. Both were stuck on their own, called up for instant views rather than joining in the in-play conversation which gave their contributions a disjointed air.

The graphics were one area that need to be addressed: breaking them down into runs scored and balls faced on the left, the batter on strike plus bowler in the centre and wickets relegated to the right was baffling. The font size, too, even for someone constantly scrabbling around for reading glasses, was on the large side, taking up almost a third of the screen like overbearing subtitles. 

Radio 1’s Vick Hope handled the vox pops and, to no one’s amazement, all her interviewees from the age of four upwards were enthusiastic converts.

There was nothing here to change minds that have long been steeled against it but the BBC at least did not treat this as a whole new ball game for those who recognise its heritage and constant evolution.