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The Hundred: Not cricket as we know it, but nothing for skeptics to fear | the hundred

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Emma Lamb probably spoke for all of us. She, along with fellow batter Lizelle Lee, had walked out to open for Manchester Originals, clearly not expecting the Olympic burst of fireworks around the Oval. The camera caught her gazing open-mouthed at the pink, green, and white explosions, and stayed with her as her lips formed the syllables: What…the…sh…? The commentators offered no translation: after all, this was family entertainment.

What the sh indeed: It’s been what many cricket fans have been quietly wondering since the Hundred was announced, and at least some of those who tuned in to the BBC and Sky’s simultaneous coverage of the first game will have hoped to enjoy a little light hate watching . We had been told this was cricket, but not as we knew it. As it turned out, it really wasn’t that bad. During the game, commentators repeatedly told us that games in the Hundred would be decided mostly by tactics. For the broadcasters, strategy was just as important. For example, how would they deal with the inevitable fact that the tournament they were now official cheerleaders for was about as popular as poor Britney Spearss conservators?

For the BBC, the answer was: go meta. Presenters of Tailenders, the loosely cricket-based podcast, it was Greg James, Felix White and Jimmy Anderson’s turn to introduce this loosely cricket-based game. They did it tongue in cheek, eyebrows raised and, in Anderson’s case, the slightly incredulous frown that has become his trademark on the pitch (you know I don’t like change, he grumbled, mentioning the time-out).

Isa Guha fronted the BBC's coverage of the Hundred on the first night.
Isa Guha fronted the BBC’s coverage of the Hundred on the first night. Photo: Javier Garca/REX/Shutterstock

True to style, there were crazy puns, jokes and catchphrases, it’s like cricket, but shorter! they repeated in unison. And since Tailenders has built a devoted audience of cricket agnostics and converts, it was a good place to start.

As the host of Radio 1’s breakfast show, you think James is a key player for the BBC, lending its credit to attract the millennials for whom the Hundred was invented. The BBC has made it big in this crossover between music and cricket, selecting DJs and musicians to play live on every game and releasing special playlists on their Sounds app. When Isa Guha said let’s go to Vic, it wasn’t, as TMS listeners might have hoped, Mr. Marks who she threw at, but Vick Hope, the R1 DJ who did pitchside interviews with young fans and former members from The Saturdays. Even absent from the ground, James managed to make a recurring little subplot, as Hope reported on his trials and tribulations in a Chester Zoo camper, where he was locked in one of his escape room stunts. Before the cricket action itself, we were in safe hands with The Usuals.

This was not the brand name for a previously unannounced Middlesbrough team, but the collective name for Phil Tufnell and Michael Vaughan, who would be our main commentary combination throughout the evening. It was an early sign that the Beeb wouldn’t try anything too crazy, so they wanted everyone to feel comfortable and included, even real cricket fans.

With all the affection and respect for the gentlemen in question, there’s nothing millennial about a light brown linen jacket over a t-shirt, even spicing it up with a jazzy pocket square. Their double act had the scent of Cannon and Ball, only enhanced by Tufferss dad dancing to the stadium beats, or Vaughan’s heartfelt announcement that Becky Hills got it rocking here in the Oval! (Cue Tuffers: It’s nice to hear some live music, Mike).

Fans enjoy witnessing the first hundred games of the first season.
Fans enjoy witnessing the first hundred games of the first season. Photo: Robbie Stephenson/JMP/REX/Shutterstock

You certainly got a sense of the excitement and novelty of the occasion from everyone in front of the camera, not least nervous moments bleeding from the field where butter fingers were on the border and a terrible early refereeing decision to the editing suite, where someone forgot cutting out the chopped audio from the very first cut and gave us a slightly Lynchian screen moment. The live atmosphere, we were told, was lively, and that was telling: empty seats look worse than they are in a large stadium like the Oval, and the noise on social media confirmed that the crowd was big and lively.

On Sky, there were stylishly insured VT packs chasing the big hitters who will headline their coverage Flintoff, Pietersen, Broad, but even more so than the BBC, their coverage of this first match was surprisingly conventional. While Ebony Rainford-Brent is the face of their ultra-cool campaign, the only real nod to youth we got was Rob Key wearing his club shirt and telling us through Maddie Villierss’ bowling action alongside a marginally terrifying avatar. With the ever-authoritative Mel Jones and Nasser Hussain calling the clean finish home, the Dog was already developing a patina of respectability. There is nothing here for the skeptics to fear.

Sources

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2/ https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2021/jul/21/the-hundred-tv-cricket-oval-invincibles-manchester-originals-bbc-sky-sports-tufnell-vaughan

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