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All over for the Over as The Hundred takes the stage

Balls are the future as the ECB's new format undergoes an open day of testing at Trent Bridge

As part of a series of pilot matches for the ECB's proposed new format, The Hundred, access was granted to a day of testing at Trent Bridge. ESPNcricinfo went along to observe the action
Despite various theories about the rules and playing conditions, the action in the middle resembled reasonably closely the game of cricket as we know it - 11 fielders, two batsmen, fours and sixes, wickets falling. But the devil is in the detail, with many questions to be finalised ahead of the competition's launch in 2020. Two games were played on Monday, between teams of county players designated as 'North' and 'South'. Here are a selection of talking points that the trials, which will be concluded on September 27 with a women's elite match at Loughborough, have so far thrown up.
The end of the over
The arrival of The Hundred will almost certainly see the six-ball over done away with, in favour of 20 sets of five balls - although Trent Woodhill, one of the ECB's consultants for the project, suggested the idea of 15 traditional overs and a 10-ball Super Over to finish had not been completely ruled out. Both of the games played on Monday featured 10 balls being delivered in a row before a change of ends, with the umpire indicating "that's five" halfway through (can't call "over" anymore).
This is all part of simplifying the game for outsiders. "I think the emphasis on the ball is really interesting and really important," said Kevin Shine, ECB lead bowling coach and part of the South team management. "We're not thinking of overs, we're not thinking of an innings. It's that old cliché, every ball is an event - and it is. And I think with that level of detail, it's made it very exciting."
A fresh tactical dimension
The option of keeping a bowler on for ten deliveries in a row - ie two sets of five - had been widely floated as an alternative to a mandatory 10-ball over, which Daryl Mitchell, the Worcestershire batsman and PCA chairman, said had "sent shivers down seam bowlers' spines".
Here, any bowler could deliver a maximum of ten balls consecutively, even if that involved changing ends; they could not then bowl for another set of five. But that could mean theoretically unleashing, say, your best spinner for their full allocation of 20 balls out of 25. Tactical timeouts called by the fielding team were also allowed, with the coach entering the field.
In the first game, such an intervention resulted in the North storming back to bowl out the South for 128, after they had been 66 for 0 from 25 balls - Leicestershire offspinner Rob Sayer, who opened up by bowling the first ten deliveries and conceding 21, finished with 4 for 25 from his 20 balls.
While the game remained recognisably "a contest between bat and ball", Woodhill was enthusiastic about the options for captains. "There's been an element of strategy that's brought in and I think that's good for cricket."
Advantage bowlers?
One of the more eye-catching tweaks to the playing conditions in operation - and one which Mitchell suggested could be something for MCC to address in the Laws - was the decision to have the new batsman taking strike even when a wicket fell to a catch and the batsmen had crossed while running.
"The bowler has created an advantage by taking a wicket," Woodhill said. "There's got to be a reward for that, and he gets to take advantage by being able to bowl at the new batsman."
In the second game, an option was introduced for a fast bowler to send down two bouncers in their second set of five - ie if they chose to stay on and bowl ten deliveries in a row. Players were also fitted with GPS tracking vests, to investigate whether expending less energy switching over in the field would allow quicks to maintain a higher level of pace overall.
Speeding up the game
The consensus among those involved was that games were quicker and more fluid than a standard T20 - although the time-saving is not dramatic. In the first match, the North scored 137 for 7 from their 100 balls, which took 1hr 5min and included a two-and-a-half minute strategic timeout; the whole game, with a 15-minute gap between innings, took around 2hr 20min (with three balls left unbowled).
"The flow of the game is better than I thought," Mitchell said. "It's a little bit odd changing bowlers and not changing ends to start with but after two sets of ten you got used to it." In pilots played on some of the previous days, not involving timeouts, the length of an innings was reduced to less than an hour.
The scoreboard
Talk had been of a radical new scoreboard, centring on a countdown clock for the number of deliveries left in an innings. However, the display at Trent Bridge was more along traditional lines, with both batsmen listed (along with runs, balls, fours and sixes) and the current bowler (ball, runs, wickets, dots), as well as two smaller numbers indicating both deliveries bowled and the number remaining - which somehow had the effect of becoming confusing.
Patel suggested afterwards that this was an area that needed sharpening up. "I think from a visualisation from the crowd perspective, they need the balls remaining to be bigger on the screen because I reckon that you need to get that message across that there is a 'wow factor' of balls left," he said. "You need an area where a board is up saying 'this is how many balls left'."
Simpler... or not?
These pilot matches are seemingly all about experimentation, with the format far from finalised - so drawing firm conclusions is about as simple as nailing jelly to the wall. In both games on Monday, substitute fielders were allowed, but there seemed some confusion as to whether this was a rolling system or one in which only a couple of designated players could be brought on (but not bowl).
"The substitution thing needs looking at closely if they are going to implement it," Mitchell said. "It got a bit messy at times."
Powerplays with fielding restrictions seem likely to remain (they have trialled them after 20, 25 and 30 balls), which are never easy to explain to a casual fan. Then there is the matter of sending down ten deliveries from one end. Should the umpire signal to say that a five-ball set has been completed? How is it best to make clear that a bowler is now bowling ten in a row (and what if he is switching ends, too)?
Perhaps one of the reassuring aspects about seeing the format being tested was how familiar it appeared - quirky rules included. But it remains to be seen if The Hundred, in whatever its final guise, can bring new crowds flocking to the game.

Alan Gardner is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick