'Absolutely no communication' leaves fans frustrated at The Oval's rain-affected double-header

"That's exactly what we don't need in cricket and exactly what the Hundred isn't designed to do," England captain Heather Knight said

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Samit Patel celebrates a breakthrough, Oval Invincibles vs Trent Rockets, Men's Hundred, The Oval, August 8, 2021

The men's match betwee Oval Invincibles and Trent Rockets was reduced to a 65-ball-a-side contest on Sunday  •  Getty Images

The Hundred has put the idea that there is no such thing as bad publicity to the test ever since its soft launch three-and-a-half years ago, and Sunday's double-header at The Oval threw up a candidate for its worst moment of PR yet: a member of Surrey's groundstaff throwing sawdust from a bucket into a wet patch on the outfield, each handful met with an ironic "olé!" from a restless, cricket-starved crowd.
It had been a rainy week in South London, with regular, heavy showers and Sunday morning was no different with persistent rainfall until midday. Two further patches followed, one shortly before the scheduled start of the women's match at 3.30pm, and another at around 5pm, but for most of the afternoon the sun was out, with wind blowing across the ground to help the outfield dry.
After the women's fixture was abandoned - a result that suited both sides - the men's squads came out to warm up ahead of a scheduled 6.30pm toss, with fielders taking high catches on the boundary edge and players kicking a football around. But umpires Nick Cook and Nigel Llong were immediately concerned by a soggy patch on the edge of the square on the Harleyford Road side of the ground; long discussions with both captains and coaches followed, before confirmation that an initial 6.45pm inspection would be followed by another at 7.45pm.
Loud boos and slow hand-claps followed, with minimal communication to the crowd over the public address system or via the big screens. Readers told ESPNcricinfo that there had been "absolutely no communication" and that "shambles is the word for the ECB", while fans on social media reported families leaving the ground after a long afternoon sat watching nothing in particular.
Heather Knight, the England women's captain, echoed those sentiments working on the BBC's radio coverage. "I'm very surprised that nothing has happened and that there's been no communication - or very little communication - to the crowd as to why that's been the case," she said. "It's the same with anything: if you don't understand why something has happened and you're frustrated by it, you sometimes just turn away and think that's not for me.
"That's exactly what we don't need in cricket and exactly what the Hundred isn't designed to do. It's designed to do the opposite, to bring new people into the game, and if they don't understand things and don't understand why and are frustrated by what seems to be a mad situation, they're likely to turn away."
By 10.25pm, when the 65-ball men's match finally finished, a reasonable proportion of the 19,382-strong crowd had made their exits. Those who stayed were treated to a high-scoring, high-octane match, which saw 241 runs scored and 14 wickets fall in 130 balls, with Jason Roy the star of the show, but most of them had spent the five-hour wait at the bar. Chants of 'Don't Take Me Home' suggested the usual Blast crowd were in town, unless the ECB's cherished new audience are all desperate to stay at The Oval "drinking all your beer" into the dead of night.
In truth, it was a thankless task for the umpires - booed and jeered during their second inspection, then cheered warmly two hours later after Llong took evasive action to tumble out the way of Samit Patel's straight drive. Their eventual decision to bring one boundary in 10 yards was pragmatic but perhaps later than necessary - and meant Tom Curran could chip a 62-metre six over square leg - though generally supported by the players.
"It was ridiculously wet, to be honest - madness," Roy said afterwards. "Even now, when we were fielding there, I had one where I completely slipped over and I was soaked. The groundstaff did an incredible job just to get us on the field.
"There probably wasn't a huge change from when we went on and when we were due to start but the umpires didn't think that way, so we had to wait and be patient. I don't think there was a huge amount of change. They changed the boundary size but the outifled was still pretty well. We just had to get on with it."
Sam Cook, Trent Rockets' debutant, had a similar view. "From the outside looking in, it probably looked like 'why aren't we starting?', but to be fair, there were some really wet, muddy patches," he said.
"Even on the short boundary, throughout the game it was pretty damp. It was a brilliant effort from the groundstaff - we were all keen to play some cricket in front of a full house but I think that delay was definitely justified, if you saw how the conditions were out there. In the end, it gave 20,000 fans what they wanted, and that's what the competition is all about."
The main lesson was that days like this demand transparency. Most fans went home happy after an enjoyable - if long - day out, a breathless match and with a 50% refund, but unclear as to the reasons behind the delay, let alone why it had taken quite so long. Clear communication is key: if an umpire or official had even briefly taken to the DJ stage to explain the decision, this near-farce could have been avoided.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98