It’s the competition so many said they didn’t want but also the tournament that shattered records and became a success in its inaugural season: The Hundred is back.
With a century of balls for each side, live music, a party atmosphere and two very sparkling trophies, English cricket’s newest property returns to its most iconic grounds from tonight in the hope of lighting up the summer with nail-biting cricket.
“It’s just such small, small margins and big consequences,” London Spirit all-rounder Ravi Bopara told City A.M. “Losing in the last five balls or needing another two or three runs to win the game when the performance wasn’t bad overall, you don’t get over the line.”
London Spirit men’s team struggled last year, finishing bottom of the rankings. Bopara added: “It was almost seen as a really, really bad season but I think this year it could be very different – we could be on the other side of those games.
“Suddenly the points [could be] racking up and you’re at the top of the table with everyone saying we’re having a great season.
“We’re very hungry to turn it around. A lot of the boys are back that we had last year, which is brilliant. For Spirit to stick by them and have some player and fan association is going to be the key moving forward as a brand.”
The Hundred was introduced last year, after being delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the purpose of opening up the sport to new family and youth audiences.
The competition saw double headers of men’s and women’s cricket take place at the same stadium, with the finals also taking place on the same day at Lord’s.
Spirit of the rules
The men’s competition begins tonight, when Southern Brave host Welsh Fire in a sold-out fixture in Southampton, while London Spirit begin their campaign tomorrow in a derby with Oval Invincibles.
The women’s competition has a delayed start due to Twenty20 cricket being part of the Commonwealth Games.
“As a team we’ve got the grasp of the rules – it’s not too different to T20,” said Spirit women’s opening batter Naomi Dattani.
“We’ll see an increased understanding of how the teams are going to go about utilising that power play and closing out games at the end as well.”
The marketing around the Hundred has put an emphasis on big-hitting, exciting matches.
Last year saw the highest score sit at 92 not out – Liam Livingstone and Jemimah Rodrigues shared that honour – but the competition is yet to see a, well, hundred.
“If you look at the run rates this year in the [T20 Vitality] Blast, they’ve gone up,” Bopara said of the potential of a ton. “People are finding more ways to score, so I think someone will get it.
“I think it’s only for the openers really, they’re the only ones who get the opportunity to score the runs.”
Dattani, whose side were fourth in 2021, agrees: “A lot of the girls have had a full year of cricket under our belts overseas and have been playing a lot so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s going to be a hundred this year.“
The north London duo are excited, too, to see how rivalries develop in the coming years of this almost franchise-style competition. Spirit and the Oval Invincibles share the capital as their home, with one side based out of Lord’s and the other the Oval.
“If the game is still around in 10-15 years time, it will be good to look back at the stats and say who’s won more games,” Bopara said of a potential London rivalry.
“If we can get the upper hand now while nobody knows about it, it’d be nice. Certainly the rivalry in the next few years is going to be brilliant once it gets established.”
“It’s a massive derby – even through Middlesex and Surrey that derby is massive – so I’m really looking forward to that game,” added Dattani. “We’re playing [a game] at the Oval this year as well so I’m really excited for that.”
Shane watching on
Former England coach Trevor Bayliss is in charge of the men’s team this year following the passing of previous head coach Shane Warne earlier this year.
Warne was said to be a captivating personality around London Spirit despite the disappointing results and Bopara insists the Australian will be in their thoughts.
“A lot of us have got Shane in our minds and I think we’re going to be doing a lot in the memory of Shane,” he said.
“I really enjoyed his company. We will have him in mind when we go out there and hopefully he’s watching down on us and we turn it around and we bring a trophy home for him. What a story that would be.”