The Hundred: Blockbusting tale of ‘incredible entertainment beyond sport’

NORTHERN SUPERMARKETS –sorry, Northern Superchargers – kicked off their 100-ball campaign at Headingley on Saturday against the Welsh Fire Brigade – sorry, Welsh Fire.

On the attack: Northern Superchargers' Harry Brook hits out against the Welsh Fire. Picture: SWPix

In a competition that “fuses blockbuster entertainment with world-class cricket, inviting everyone to fall in love with the game at its intense, electrifying and incredible best” (with thanks to the official ECB press release), the Super-dupers experienced a mixed opening day.

As their resident DJ Emily Pilbeam pumped out tunes from a large black stage in a corner of the West Stand, and as the ghosts of Lord Hawke, Wilfred Rhodes, Hedley Verity, Arthur ‘Ticker’ Mitchell, Brian Sellers and Fred Trueman tapped their feet in the Elysian Fields, the Superliners women won their game by six wickets thanks to an unbeaten 92 by India’s Jemimah Rodrigues as they chased 131 with 15 balls left, before the men went down by five runs in pursuit of 174, ending on 168-7 despite 62 from Yorkshire’s Harry Brook.

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It all amounted to “incredible entertainment beyond sport” (again, with thanks to the official ECB press release) as The Hundred took us to places hitherto accessed only via such vehicles as Mozart, Shakespeare and the Hubble Telescope.

The thrills began as they do in this tournament with the toss on stage instead of on the pitch. The coin was thus transformed into cricket’s answer to Freddie Mercury as we watched transfixed to discover whether it would land on the side of heads or tails.

The toss was won by the Superbugs both times, Lauren Winfield-Hill and Ben Stokes – the latter deputising as captain for Faf du Plessis, who is missing the first three matches due to concussion sustained at the Pakistan Super League – both choosing to bowl.

After the breathless drama of the coin toss, it turned out that the transcendent thrills had, like The Carpenters, only just begun.

There was a ‘moment of unity’ between the teams on the outfield before we got under way – or rather two moments of unity as this was a double-header, and what Yorkshire folk could resist two for t’price of one?

On a nice afternoon (possibly even for staying at home), the players emerged from a small tunnel in front of the North-East Stand before a countdown clock on the electronic scoreboard signalled the start of the “blockbuster entertainment”.

This was a sensational development – a new audience said to be too thick to comprehend anything as complicated as ‘overs’ could seemingly not only count but also count backwards from 10 to one. Remarkable.

One had barely recovered from the shock of this news when, amid excitement that Columbus must have felt on finding the ‘New World’, Linsey Smith ran into bowl the opening delivery from the Kirkstall Lane end to namesake Bryony Smith.

It was pushed out into the covers for a single and the Welsh Fireflies were up and running –time to crack open another bottle of weedkiller and to strap in tight for the white-knuckle ride.

At the halfway stage it was 79-3 from 50 balls, the strokeplay of West Indian overses player Hayley Matthews, who top-scored with 30 from 20, having been the highlight, along with the Pilbeam-directed sound system which, in fairness, was nice and clear – in contrast to the cloudy skies.

But the Supernovas dragged it back well, taking 51-5 in the second half as the Welsh Firebreaks closed on 130-8 from their 100 balls, Smith capturing 3-14, Katie Levick 2-13 and Alice Davidson-Richards 2-30.

Before a crowd of 5,026, including a fair number of families to judge through the binoculars, the Northern Supersleuths were soon in trouble as they slipped to 19-4 off 18 balls.

But Rodriguez played superbly, displaying terrific flair and timing, especially through the offside, during a 43-ball innings that included 17 fours and a six.

The 20-year-old, formerly of Northern Diamonds, was well supported by Davidson-Richards, who scored 23 from 28 balls, the pair sharing an unbroken 112 from 68 deliveries.

The crowd had climbed to 10,324 for the men’s match, which started at 6pm and more closely resembled a T20 vibe.

Welsh Fireworks were given a flying start by their captain, Jonny Bairstow, who raced to fifty from 28 balls, including a pulled six off Brydon Carse into the West Stand that was dropped by a man dressed as a penguin – unless it was a penguin.

One could easily imagine the television commentators, perched in a pod in front of the pavilion, going into their usual paroxysms of ecstasy, perhaps assisted by mind-changing substances.

Bairstow holed out on the mid-wicket boundary off Stokes for 56, but 41 from Ben Duckett and an unbeaten 30 by Jimmy Neesham saw Welsh Firewardens to a competitive 173-4.

Northern Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious needed a fast start, and they were given one by Adam Lyth, who struck 25 from 14.

There was the mandatory T20-style interruption when a male streaker ran across the outfield, evading capture by several stewards before surrendering in front of Pilbeam’s stage.

None of which discombobulated the Superbeams, Brook raising his fifty from 21 balls and hitting five sixes and three fours in total. He fell lbw to Qais Ahmad, the 20-year-old Afghan leg-spinner, whose 4-13 proved decisive.