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Every second counts - early takeaways from the Hundred bash

Bowlers have it better, timekeeping is key, women have equal billing as men… there's a lot to get behind

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
The Hundred has turned up the temperature for those domestic players lucky enough to be involved  •  Getty Images

The Hundred has turned up the temperature for those domestic players lucky enough to be involved  •  Getty Images

We're a week or so into the ECB's 100-ball wheeze, and everyone is beginning to get the hang of things. Let's have a quick stock-take on the new format.
Bowlers catch a break
Reducing the number of deliveries a team needs to bat, without cutting the resources (i.e. wickets) at their disposal, usually sees the rate of scoring go up - just think T10, or any rain-affected five-over thrash you have been to. But that doesn't seem to have been the case in the early stages of the Hundred, admittedly when players are still working out how best to approach the format. In the men's competition, there have only been three totals above 150 (which is roughly the equivalent of 180 in a T20), and only two above 140 in the women's. Overall, there have been 14 half-centuries from 17 completed matches, and the only player to have got close to scoring a century is Jemimah Rodrigues.
As has been pointed out, several of the changes seem to have made the Hundred more bowler-friendly - from the shorter powerplay, the ability to bowl ten balls if things are going well or bail out after five if not, and the fact new batters almost always take the strike. That last feature seems increasingly significant and is something for teams to start factoring in. In Trent Rockets' dramatic Alex Hales-led resurrection against Northern Supercharger, Hales faced 19 balls in the first half of the chase, and then 15 in the second as wickets fell around him, limiting the damage he may otherwise have been able to inflict in a small chase.
A matter of timing
"Every ball counts" is the tagline of the Hundred, but perhaps "every second counts" would have been more apt. Watching the opening stages, it has often felt as if timekeeping is meant to be one of the foremost skills on show; that the major reason T20 hasn't brought floods of new fans to the game in this country is not down to the arcane workings of the county system, or a (relative) lack or star signings, or the absence from free-to-air television, but rather a somewhat tardy over rate.
Then again, the ability to complete 100-ball games inside two-and-a-half hours was supposedly an appealing factor to broadcasters - in particular the BBC, which isn't keen on prime time cricket running over and disrupting the schedules. Although a requirement for there to be 50 seconds between each change of ends, presumably for advertising purpose, sits at odds with the need for speed.
Whatever the truth, discussions of the cut-off time - after which teams lose fielders outside the ring if they have not started to bowl the final set of five - have been a near ubiquitous feature of the closing stages of innings, only missing the Countdown theme being played over the top.
Women on the rise
The ECB's scrapping of the successful Kia Super League was one of the more perverse decisions around the creation of the Hundred. But giving the women equal billing with the men, as well as first use of the pitches, has helped create a genuinely uplifting narrative as well as an entertaining drawcard, while the presence of England players throughout the competition looks set to ensure high standards.
While official attendance figures for the double-headers have looked on the generous side, attempting as they do to account for people who have tickets for both games but don't arrive until late in the day, there's no doubt that the crowds in general have been good. Remember that the first-ever KSL match, at Headingley in 2016, was watched by fewer than 1000 people at the ground - compared to nearly 8000 at The Oval for last week's curtain raiser. To have internationals such as Rodrigues, Dane van Niekerk and Stafanie Taylor command the stage alongside emerging stars like Lauren Bell and 16-year-old Alice Capsey, in front of thousands of spectators and a large televised audience, is tangible progress for the sport.
New vibe, same crowd?
The in-game experience has clearly been pitched more at families and those potentially coming to a cricket match for the first time: DJ sets and live music, pitch-side interaction on the big screens, and a simplified scoreboard, counting up to 100 balls during the first innings and then down for the second. Anecdotally, and from watching on TV, there seems to have been a greater proportion of women and children coming through the gates, certainly for the early fixtures; however, the evenings have rung to the sound of here-for-beers chanting familiar to anyone who has ever been to a T20 Blast match.
Some of the spin around the competition has been laughable - notably TV presenters standing in front of near-empty stands while continually hailing the "great crowds" - but somewhere in between the PA-renditions of "Happy Birthday" to seemingly nonplussed kids, and the obligatory sunset choruses of "Don't Take Me Home" as the business at the bars gets brisker, the ECB will be hoping a section of that near-mythical new audience has found its way through the turnstiles. The next step is to turn them into Hundred diehards.
Talent show
Whether you think the new format is a ground-breaking moment for the game or a gimmicky rip-off of T20 cricket, the introduction of a pseudo-franchise tournament (because none of the new teams is technically a franchise) to the UK has certainly condensed the competition and turned up the temperature for those domestic players lucky enough to be involved.
The opening rounds saw little-heralded names such as Chris Benjamin, Harry Brook, Calvin Harrison and Matthew Carter - as well as Capsey, Bell, Emma Lamb, Linsey Smith and Katie Levick - rise above the established talent to seize their moment. After the double-header at Lord's on Thursday, London Spirit captain Eoin Morgan hailed a "finer-tuned, highly skilled competition" that pitted international regulars against the best from the county circuit, creating an environment for "young talent [to] come through and really shine". And that's a proposition many can get behind.

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick