England’s Alfred Shaw sent down the first ball in Test cricket back in 1877, Australia’s Graham McKenzie in one-day internationals in 1971 and in the professional Twenty20 match 18 years ago this particular honour went to James Kirtley of Sussex.
The Hundred? On a soupy July evening in south London it was Marizanne Kapp of Oval Invincibles who ushered in the latest mutation in cricket’s ever-changing history, the South Africa international charging in from the Pavilion End and, like Kirtley at the start of English cricket’s previous reboot, producing a wide first up.
Lizelle Lee of Manchester Originals slightly flapped as the ball went down leg; Sarah Bryce then made it a hat-trick of understandably nervy starts with a fumble behind the stumps. But with this the Hundred was born, a troubled three-year gestation period making way for a positive explosion of sound and light at the Kia Oval.
It was a moment of relief for the army of black-shirted gophers from the England and Wales Cricket Board dotted around the venue, while the 7,000 or so spectators who rocked up – what at first glance looked an encouraging blend of young adults and families – did, to be fair, appear to be buzzing already by this point.
After Ebony Rainford-Brent had fittingly rung the bell before the start of play they had whooped and hollered the team out of the new LED tunnel and on to the field, as an arsenal of fireworks was unloaded, green smoke filled the air and DJ Abbie McCarthy pumped out tunes from the sound stage. Even the pigeons were bobbing along.
Cricket’s in-ground entertainment has grown year-on-year since Kerry Packer turned the sport technicolour in the late 1970s with the creation of World Series Cricket. But this did feel like an update to its software; as if the old ground had been put through an Instagram filter. More important was the reformatted action out in the middle.
Over the course of the next two hours and 35 minutes – slightly over time – the Invincibles ensured their amusingly optimistic name did not get off to a false start, chasing down a target of 136 with two of their 100 balls to spare for a five-wicket win.
Dane van Niekerk was the star on opening night, the Invincibles captain and South Africa international slashing a four through slip off her opposite number, Kate Cross, to seal the victory, trigger the flame-throwers as she finished unbeaten on 56 from 42 balls.
This was tough on Cross, with the England seamer having claimed three for 28 from 18 balls and earlier carved out her own little slice of history when becoming the first cricketer to hit a six in the Hundred, slapping the 95th ball of the match over long-on. The smile upon doing so, and the noise it generated, was sizeable.
It helped the Originals post 135 for six, Lee hitting six fours in a 39-ball 42 but the innings given an injection of energy – and not shortage of style – when India’s Harmanpreet Kaur finessed the same number in a 16-ball 29. Kapp and England’s Tash Farrant shared five wickets and 20 dot balls, but it looked a challenging target.
The chase got off to a troubling start too, Cross striking three times to reduce the hosts to 36 for four after 32 balls. But in came Kapp to join Van Niekerk, the pair putting on 73 in 50 balls to break the back of the target. Kapp fell for 38 before the end, victim of a quicksilver stumping by Eleanor Threlkeld off the bowling of Sophie Ecclestone, but the class of Van Niekerk prevailed and the vocal home support positively erupted at the end.
Was all this easier to understand for those present? Clearly to the pre-converted it will take time to rethink established norms, such as the new 10-ball block that can be sent down by one bowler or two before the change of ends. A piece of white card held up by the umpire to denote the midway point is a subdued and easily missed event.
One of two big screens at the Oval seemed just as packed full of numbers as a traditional one and all too often both made way for crowd shots and replays. An early suggestion would be that at least one screen must show the score at all times, and certainly during the run chase if tension is to be maintained.
But, as largely expected, this was fundamentally still modern white-ball cricket as we know it; the same diet of coloured clothes, twinkling zing bails and smoked boundaries just ever so slightly remixed like the music.
It was a bold move to kick-start the Hundred with a women’s game and somewhat ironic that Surrey were chosen as hosts. They had been the county most resistant to change ever since the ECB started making moves to create a city-based Twenty20 tournament and, back in April 2018, announced this would in fact be an all-new format.
The opening night was never going to be about changing perceptions en masse. Many of the concerns about the Hundred do not stem from the cricket itself either, rather the impact on the wider English game now it has been perhaps irreversibly unhooked from its traditional county moorings. And the upshot won’t be known for a good while yet.
But the Hundred has certainly arrived and thanks to a host of international players delivering on opening night, their male counterparts who meet at the Oval on Thursday already have a bit to live up to.