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Fan Following

Signatures, selfies, smiles... on a solo debut

A day out at the Hundred through the eyes of a 12-year-old fan

Abir Bordia
24-Aug-2022
"At the start of each match, there were fireworks, which made the whole affair much more enjoyable"  •  ECB via Getty Images

"At the start of each match, there were fireworks, which made the whole affair much more enjoyable"  •  ECB via Getty Images

I am quite young, and an avid cricket fan. I follow the sport religiously, read ESPNcricinfo top to bottom, and please don't be surprised if I told you the travel itinerary that Sam Billings undertook from Australia to reach the West Indies this winter, or the names of the three Indian players who have been MVPs in the IPL since inception, or even the stats of every domestic league in the world.
I have been going to live cricket games since I was two, but to be fair, it has always been my cricket-mad dad dragging me to the games in the hope of kindling a love for live sport! I'll be honest, I thought watching cricket on TV is much better than watching live, anywhere in the world. All the technology and cameras make it much clearer to the audience, plus, I can carry on playing video games on my Nintendo Switch.
And then I started watching the Hundred on TV last season - it seemed there were many kids on the ground, each game only lasted 2.5 hours and you could catch two games in a day. It all seemed like fun: being there doing that. I persuaded my dad to go to a Hundred game this season, but he did not get drawn into it. I then declared: I would go on my own!
It was daunting, but I convinced them, and perhaps it was easier to do so as kids tickets are available only for £5! I have recently become a bit obsessed about collecting signatures and selfies - especially after getting some with Kevin Pietersen, Freddie Flintoff and the late Shane Warne last summer, from Johnny Bairstow on a flight to Bengaluru, and then in a chance encounter with Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine and Chris Jordan outside our local Nando's. My dad told me that the Bedser Stand at The Oval is the best place to collect some more because it's adjacent to the route the players take to the pavilion. You can even get some smiles!
We live quite close to The Oval, and I have often heard some legendary Oval cricket stories, from my dad's relentless fascination with Sunil Gavaskar's 221 in a Test match before either of us were born, to Rahul Dravid's heroics and Rishabh Pant's century, all the way to Jasprit Bumrah's magic in India's Test win in 2021. All of this meant that The Oval is much more than a shape for our household!
Birmingham Phoenix were going to play Invincibles at The Oval, and we found one ticket in the Bedser Stand! I was ready…and so was my backpack: with cold coffee in a thermos, some popcorn, chips, and some money for a hot pizza in the stands.
I left my house mid-afternoon, slowly walking along a relatively empty main road, but not for long. Getting closer and closer to the stadium, more and more people, hundreds of them, were going to the ground, all of them anticipating a good day of cricket. It was a brilliant day, nice weather and most people were enjoying everything, and the crowd was a sea of green, with some orange in between.
I was looking forward to watching what was sure to be an interesting game. Both of the teams were in the middle of the table, both looking for a qualifying place. All four teams, men and women on both sides, had some world-class players. In particular, I was looking forward to seeing Dane van Niekerk, Ellyse Perry, Shabnim Ismail, Liam Livingstone, Moeen Ali, and Sam Curran. Personally, I would be supporting Oval Invincibles, but I was still a bit non-partisan. I was also looking to try on some of the activities on show around the stadium, including making a customised Hundred trading card, and doing the keeper challenge, in which your reactions are tested.
The vibe seemed quite casual, and the format was more relaxed than a T20. At the start of each match, there were fireworks, which made the whole affair much more enjoyable.
At the toss, the crowd cheered loudly when it was announced that last year's women's MVP and Oval Invincibles' default captain van Niekerk was back in the starting XI, in place of her wife, Marizanne Kapp. Oval Invicibles had four world-class overseas players, so someone had to sit on the bench. At the start, the stadium was more than half-empty, and was quite subdued.
Phoenix was batting first, and their whole innings was quite slow. As the wickets fell again and again, the crowd cheered and clapped for the home team. The vibe grew louder and more and more exciting as the evening progressed... I even made some new friends with others sitting next to me, or also looking for signatures.
Oval Invincibles Women won with 13 balls remaining. The crowd exploded into cheers and applause for the team. I stayed back for a while after the match, looking for players to get more signatures, and they all obliged, all with a smile. Every player I approached, including Sophie Devine, Shabnim Ismail and Marizanne Kapp, kindly and tolerantly signed everything, and agreed to photos as well. Some even gave me a hug after a photo. The crowd roared with each boundary, the team DJ playing a new song every over, and chants and shouts continued from the more enthusiastic members of the crowd.
It was interesting to hear many Bollywood songs being played, that too in the middle of London, with no Indians on either side.
Then, just before the men's match started, I wandered around the food stalls, browsing everything on offer for a vegetarian, and I ended up buying an ice cream and a sourdough pizza. I got back just in time to catch some practice drills, and most of the Invincibles team were playing football, and practising headers. Tom Moody, the Invincibles men's coach, was giving some of the other players, including the Curran brothers, high catches, hitting the ball hard with a bat.
Now I was ready for the showdown. I was curious how England team-mates like Jason Roy and Livingstone interact even though they were on opposite sides? How serious would the rivalry be? My question was answered, when, before the match, they were chatting to each other, exchanging thoughts on batting techniques, and wishing each other luck.
I was sitting right behind what looked like an ice-cream van, pink in color, but it was on the ground. On closer inspection, it was the commentary booth! I then spotted Ravi Shastri, India's former head coach and player. I even saw Jos Buttler, who I thought I wouldn't get to see in this tournament because of his injury, but here he was in the commentary truck! And then there was Eoin Morgan! This was interesting, the best players in the tournament were also commentating alongside some legends, including Daren Sammy! It seemed there was plenty of food going in and out of the truck as well! I was tempted...
It's interesting how all the title sponsors for each team in the Hundred are snack companies. Perhaps they are targeting people like me.
The men's game went up and down, Invincibles restricted the batters in the powerplay, but Phoenix, especially Liam Livingstone and Moeen Ali scored many runs in the middle overs, and ended with 166 for 6. Invincibles also started timidly, but then both Currans started hitting hard. I was disappointed when Jason Roy got dismissed.
I would have liked Imran Tahir to get a wicket, as I was looking forward to his extravagant celebration. The crowd were nervous and excited at the same time. Tom Curran hit a six towards the end of the innings which gave some hope to the home crowd, and the stadium was deafening. All in all, however, Oval Invincibles ended up losing by ten runs.
Before everyone was thrown out of the stadium, I got autographs of those I really wanted, including Liam Livingstone, Daniel Vettori and Moeen Ali. I followed a few people to the Birmingham Phoenix and Oval Invincibles coaches (the one to transport people), where Chris Benjamin and Benny Howell from Phoenix had come over to the crowd outside.
Through the day, I had collected around 30 signatures - most of them on a hoodie that has become special - and around 20 photos. As I walked slowly back through the dark but crowded Vauxhall Street, I felt a sense of exhilaration and exhaustion. It had been such a great day of cricket.
Marks out of 10
11. I absolutely loved it! I am getting ready to go to Lord's for the London Spirit game all by myself! And I am now a bonafide live cricket fan (as long as my pizza is more expensive than my ticket)!
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Abir Bordia is a 12-year-old cricket fan living in London