The opening night of the Hundred’s second season launched with a fireworks display so extensive that the smoke took nearly five minutes to clear. It felt as though a member of the Ageas Bowl’s events staff must have pushed the wrong button, using up all the pyrotechnics for the evening.
Bairstow’s decision to withdraw was the obvious move, the only window in his jammed schedule for him to take a rest, but by making his decision public at the 11th hour – his decision had been communicated internally 48 hours before the announcement – the ECB ensured his absence would be one of the evening’s main talking points.
In fact, both sides were missing key men and neither managed to fill their quota of three overseas players: Brave were without Quinton de Kock and Finn Allen while Fire had to cope without David Miller and Naseem Shah, all on international duty. The opening night showed why the ECB have ensured the Hundred has a clear window of availability from next year: the names that had been used to sell tickets were nowhere to be seen.
“We’re not quite sure what a good score will be,” Vince had said at the toss, and 107 for 7 was not the answer. Fire lost Joe Clarke, Tom Banton and Ollie Pope inside the first 22 balls for 16 runs between them, and despite Duckett’s valiant 40 off 31 and two drops from Vince in the field, they were a long way short of a competitive total.
Vince sparkled in the chase after an early reprieve, dropped by Ryan Higgins at deep backward square leg. He has been seeing the white Kookaburra like a watermelon all summer, leading the run charts in the Blast, and his cuts for four through backward point off Adam Zampa tasted like strawberries on a summer evening.
The Ageas Bowl was sold out, though not quite at full capacity with two of the temporary stands for England’s T20Is against India and South Africa covered and unused, and felt subdued for much of the night. A clash with the Commonwealth Games means that the first eight days of the tournament will be standalone men’s games, and the ground was noticeably emptier – and quieter – at the start of the game than it had been last year.
That also exacerbated the impact of the toss, with conditions significantly harder for batters in the first innings than the second. In the Hundred’s first season, teams taking more powerplay wickets won 68% of games in the men’s competition; on Wednesday night, Brave took three and Fire none. They will lose Overton to England duty soon, but have Tymal Mills and George Garton waiting in the wings.
“The bowlers did a fantastic job and from there the gameplan was fairly simple,” Vince said. “The only way we would let them back into the game was to lose early wickets so there wasn’t a huge amount of scoreboard pressure. Our new-ball bowlers bowled really well and found a little bit of seam movement early on. We took early wickets and stayed in control.”
As the ECB found when they launched the Twenty20 Cup 20 seasons ago at this same venue, gimmicks and marketing can only take a competition so far. In time, the cricket will have to stand on its own two feet.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98