THE new men’s and women’s ‘cricket’ tournament called The Hundred is up and running, cooked up by the authorities to ‘bring a younger, more diverse audience to the game’. Needless to say, with a quintessential English tradition to be trampled on, the BBC is in on the act: it will broadcast all 18 games live over the next six weeks.
The tournament’s name derives from the abolition of six-ball ‘overs’ in favour of the apparently simpler hundred balls per innings, bowled in five-ball ‘sets’.
Watching the opening men’s match at the Oval on Thursday evening, my sense of foreboding was soon justified. Gone are the proud names of illustrious cricketing counties: Lancashire, Gloucestershire, Sussex, Yorkshire; too parochial and square for the modern cricket ‘consumer’, I’m afraid.
In their stead, city franchises: this first fixture featured the Oval Invincibles and Manchester Originals. If you’re looking for a team to adopt (you are, aren’t you?) and neither name appeals, you might feel an affinity for Trent Rockets, Southern Brave, Northern Superchargers, Welsh Fire, Birmingham Phoenix or London Spirit. You see, that’s where English cricket was going wrong. It didn’t sound enough like the NFL.
A female Asian presenter, Isa Guha, fronted the broadcast with such Arlottian lyricism as ‘Invincibles are all over this’ and ‘I’m bigging him up’. With her in the commentary box was one of the women’s players: no stuffy male preserve this. The latter, with demure charm, recalled how the male players had left beers for the women in their dressing room the night before.
Tymal Mills (actually rather good) was one of the other pundits, joining Isa for a pointedly social-distanced pitch-side chat. (Thanks, as always, for reminding us of Covid, Auntie.) Another BBC recruit is Michael Carberry, the black former cricketer. He recently said Ollie Robinson should ‘lose his career’ for his ‘racist’ tweets. Doubtless this presented him in a favourable light to his new employer.
The main commentary was left to Michael Vaughan and Phil Tufnell, trying hard to get into the hip and cool spirit of things. Vaughan, drawing on his vast knowledge gleaned over 82 Test matches, shrewdly observed that the gyrating off-field DJ was ‘loving it’.
Further sage utterances pertained to Tufnell’s modest footballing abilities. Indeed, football was a consistent theme of banter throughout the evening. After all, cricket is no different to footie really, is it? At one point, Tufnell forgot the name of the home team mid-sentence, and was forced to check his notes. It was probably the evening’s most authentic moment.
The new gender-neutral cricketing terminology was strictly adhered to, of course. Batsmen are now ‘batters’, third man has become ‘third’. How long before preferred pronouns are mandated to appear on the backs of players’ shirts?
The irrepressible Isa provided the biggest laugh. Eschewing the established ‘onside’ and ‘offside’, she advised viewers that an Oval ‘batter’ had hit the ball ‘to the left of the screen as you look at it’. What would we do without you, Isa?
On the plus side, it was heartening to see virtually a full house of unmasked spectators enjoying themselves in the evening sunlight. The Hundred, though, as you may have gathered, is not for this purist. After watching this facsimile of our treasured game, my fears for the future of first-class cricket – the gourmet meal to The Hundred’s burger – have only increased.
A small boy was asked by the roving-mic reporter what he made of it all. ‘It’s great. I haven’t been to a proper cricket game before’, he enthused. Far be it from me to burst your bubble, lad, but you still haven’t. Not that the BBC would dream of telling you.