New format that offers a way in to cricket for our youngsters

Roy of the Invincibles: Surrey and England’s star batsman clubbed 20 runs off 12 balls in the first match of The Hundred at The Oval

For DAVID MORGAN, his first Hundred cricket match struck a chord

I went to a cricket match at The Oval on Thursday. It wasn’t the first time I had been to a game there, but it was the first time I had seen the new competition, The Hundred: Oval Invincibles against the Manchester Originals.

I arrived early so I could see the warm-ups. I didn’t spot anything new there.

Since there have been a few number of injuries among cricketers just before matches when they have used a small game of football in the warm-up, such activity has been banned by the coaches. Still, the Originals slipped a football into their new kitbag and tested both the grassy outfield and their hamstrings with a little pass and move drill.

Perhaps they were thinking about the ghosts of Oval past, when Kennington was the venue for the FA Cup final in the 1880s and 1890s. A quick look at the history books would show them that teams from Lancashire had a good record here. Blackburn Rovers won six times at The Oval and Preston North End once. Good omens for northern success?

Oval ball game: south London staged early FA Cup finals and England v Scotland football internationals

How many of the football crowd back in the 1880s were thinking, “This is still quite new, shall we wander along and give it a go?” Were there neutral supporters in attendance who just went to see a good game?

At the cricket, a dad with his two young sons soon pitched up in seats near to me. Both boys were sporting the Invincibles’ new green shirts, the adhesive barely dry on the lettering. Excited by the occasion, it didn’t take long for them to persuade their dad to take them to find the ice cream van.

Banter between rival supporters at The Oval is always good-natured. I have spent Test match days next to Aussies, T20 Blasts next to Kent Spitfires and County Championship games next to cricket lovers from around the country. On this occasion, I never found an Original to chat to. Travel, even after covid precautions have been eased, is not straightforward.

The dad returned from getting the ice creams and explained that he was a Yorkshireman living down south and this new tournament had meant he could support the Invincibles without any feeling of guilt. “Yorkshire til I die.”

Being with people who are supporting the other side can also be a challenge though. The first League Cup final I attended was in 1985, between Norwich City and Sunderland and dubbed the “Friendly Final”. Norwich won 1-0 and Clive Walker missed a penalty, which would have been the equaliser. It was for me, the ideal final. My team was Norwich and my friend’s team was Sunderland.

We didn’t have tickets and for the only time in my life bought some from a tout. I think they had plenty to spare. Not knowing where the tickets were for, we ended up on opposite ends of Wembley Stadium. I, the Norwich fan, was in among the Sunderland supporters. My Sunderland-supporting friend was at the Norwich end. Even when surrounded by baying Wearsiders, it was very difficult for me not to celebrate the Norwich goal and the Sunderland penalty miss.

At The Hundred, as we approached the start time, someone turned the volume control up on the music. A young lady whose name I didn’t know was playing music with a big boom boom bass. It went down well with many but wasn’t the easiest of backgrounds for any conversations.

Wimbledon 1979: to see Borg beat Tanner  in the men’s final, David Morgan was able to watch from Centre Court’s standing section

Music has often been part of my sporting firsts, though.

An uncle who lived in Finsbury Park got my father and I tickets for Highbury to see the Arsenal play Nottingham Forest in 1963, with the Gunners winning 4-2. One of the things I remember about the first time I went to Highbury, apart from George Eastham, was the Metropolitan Police Band. As a 10-year-old I was so impressed. They marched on the pitch at half-time, and the crowd cheered when the drum major swung his mace high in the air, hoping he might drop it.

Even my first Wimbledon tennis final involved music. I got a spot in the free-standing area of Centre Court to see the 1979 final Bjorn Borg against Roscoe Tanner. That evening I suffered from a stiff neck and sore calves from straining to see the action. Standing level with the service line, you could appreciate the power of the serves. In those pre-Hawkeye days, how on earth did those line judges cope? That day, there was a small military band playing in the corner of the court, just as if you were at an Edwardian garden party.

Atmosphere is important at all these sporting events and the crowd can play their part. Did the person who decided that Glad All Over would be a good addition to the atmosphere at Selhurst Park believe that it would continue to be used for so long?

Not much change: The Hundred might be ‘new’, but the players’ warm-up was much as usual

I have been in arenas, though, when it was just the sheer excitement of the crowd and the buzz that went through that audience which made it special. Going to the London Olympics in 2012 and the Manchester Commonwealth Games 10 years earlier were two such times. Everyone there knew that the event was special. You didn’t need a song, you just needed to roar your support.

There was a bit of roaring for the Invincibles, especially when a huge six was struck, and definitely after a few pints had been sunk. No Sweet Carolines though.

I don’t know how long it takes for a team to create their own anthem. You can’t manufacture one, it has to come through the fan base. I can’t believe that a cry of “Come on you Invincibles!” will work. There’s too many syllables.

Sometimes you try something new and it just doesn’t work. Way back, I went to see the Streatham Redskins play ice hockey. There was a lot of noise and even an organ to build the excitement, but I never went back. I couldn’t tell you anything about the game other than it was rough.

On the way to my seat for the cricket, someone asked me why I had come to the match.

I probably disappointed them with my answer. “I have come to see Jason Roy bat.”

He is a supreme hitter of the ball. I saw his first-ever 6 scored against Sussex when Surrey played a few T20 fixtures at Whitgift School. Now, he’s a World Cup-winner. He has had his disappointing games but the strength and power and timing that he achieves is outstanding.

Much missed: Surrey matches at Whitgift were great days out, ideal for introducing Croydon youngsters to the game

Where are the youngsters from Croydon going to get their sporting firsts today? Who is going to take them and how much will it cost? Local clubs must be a good starting point.

I saw my local team, Lowestoft Town, in the first round of the FA Cup in 1967. There was a dusting of snow on the pitch and Pat Jennings played in goal for Watford. Forty-one years later I visited the new Wembley for the first time to see them play in the FA Vase final. Both matches were lost, but the occasion remains with you.

What will today’s youngsters remember of their first sporting visit? Will they become statisticians and reel off names and appearances? Will they become players? What will those two lads who sat near me with their new shirts and ice creams remember about the match in years to come? Will they be interviewed in 60 years’ time as people reflect on the astonishing rise and worldwide spread of The Hundred version of the game? “What was it like to be there all those years ago?”

My memories of this sporting first will be very different to those young lads, I expect. I was disappointed Jason Roy got out quite early on, but the catch to dismiss him was exceptional. Sam Curran is the bowler with the golden arm. Tom Curran batted better than I had seen in ages. The Originals were second best. And it was noisy! I hope the off-field entertainment doesn’t became the same for every team. If I could purchase a Hundred franchise, I think I would have a brass band playing in the corner.

As you are watching the Olympics over the next two weeks, read the stories of how those Olympians started off on their sporting journeys.

Each generation’s story will be different but we must keep providing the opportunities for everyone.

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