Fireworks, DJs but brilliant cricket – The Hundred’s encouraging start

As opening nights go, The Hundred’s was surely as good as organisers could have hoped for.

A modern-day record-breaking crowd and a thrilling win for Oval Invincibles over Manchester Originals only told half the story.

As the match reached its thrilling climax, a noise alien to English cricket stadiums went around a ground.

Not 80s classics sung by well-oiled fans or roaring chants in support of the home team.

Instead, an excitable, rhythmic clap.

A young crowd was fixated not on the half-time music acts or fireworks, but on the sport unfolding in front of their eyes.

This was cricket, just not as we’ve known it.

A crowd of around 7,400 people were at The Oval to watch the first match of The Hundred

The debate ever since The Hundred – cricket’s newest format of 100 balls per innings – was announced three years ago has been some of the most intense cricket has seen.

The neon green and pink fireworks, blasted from roof of The Oval’s historic pavilion as the players first emerged on to the field was almost a metaphor for the disharmony that has divided a sport.

Issues raised by critics of the tournament do not disappear after one game.

But, for a format billed as an opportunity to engage a new audience, this was an encouraging start.

The crowd was undoubtedly younger and more diverse than those seen at men’s internationals, or in the current Twenty20 Blast.

Groups of young girls wandered into the famous old ground. Families took their seats with some children too small to hold a cricket ball, never mind swing a bat.

Fireworks at The Hundred
The Hundred began with an impressive firework display

Instead of the bars, it was caterers selling pizza and ice cream that had the longest queues.

Spectators ‘oooh-ed’ and ‘ahhh-ed’ at a six or a four and cheered Manchester Originals bowler Kate Cross to the crease for a hat-trick ball, but there was a different feeling.

There is room in cricket for both – no-one at Trent Bridge for Pakistan’s raucous win over England last Friday would have it otherwise – but this atmosphere was more like a chilled rooftop bar than boozy stag-do.

Cries of Sweet Caroline, a staple of cricket grounds in recent years, were replaced by the laid-back mixes of the resident DJ situated in the stand.

That same stage housed both the pre-match toss and a performance from singer Becky Hill, a recent chart-topper, during the break between innings.

Other new inclusions were white cards held-up by umpires to signal the end of an bowler’s set of five balls, an LED tunnel through which players entered the field and the flames that erupted from the boundary edge after a four, six or wicket.

Fans cheering during The Hundred match between Oval Invincibles Women and Manchester Originals
The Hundred has been created by the England and Wales Cricket Board to try to introduce a younger, more diverse audience to the game

In total around 7,400 people attended the game, a number believed to be a record for a women’s professional, domestic cricket match anywhere in the world.

A large number of those were given away free – but when the object is expanding in the game, does that really matter?

Some purists may have been put off – others may not have watched at all – but there were moments for them too.

A graceful four over extra cover by Manchester’s Harmanpreet Kaur would have impressed anyone. She showed the touch and skill of Wimbledon’s latest champion Ashleigh Barty, another who knows a thing or two about cricket.

The fast hands of Originals wicketkeeper Ellie Threlkeld to dismiss Marizanne Kapp were reminiscent of former England keeper Sarah Taylor.

But the best was yet to come.

As Oval Invincibles fought their way back into a contest the Originals looked set to win, the tension grew.

Cricket became the main event.

When Mady Villiers hit her England team-mate Sophie Ecclestone, the number one T20 bowler in the world, for six with 10 balls to go the crowd leapt to its feet.

Moments later Invincibles captain Dane van Niekerk hit the winning runs with just two balls left. The Hundred’s biggest sceptics would have been stirred by the sight of spectators young and old dancing in the stands.

“We couldn’t have asked for anything better to create a real buzz around the tournament,” said England captain Heather Knight, part of the BBC commentary team.

“It was electric,” a worn-out Van Niekerk added.

“The crowd was incredible. I don’t think I have ever played a domestic game – bar the semi and final of [Australian T20 competition] the Big Bash – in an atmosphere like this.”

Originals skipper Cross may have been beaten but she was breaking into a smile when she spoke after the game.

“It’s the loudest crowd I’ve ever played in front of, including international cricket,” she said.

The Oval is set to be close to capacity on Thursday when the same two teams open the men’s competition.

The next question – can the men ride the wave the women have provided?

Becky Hill performs at half time during the The Hundred match between Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals
Singer Becky Hill performed for fans during the interval

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